Marc Swan

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Numbers Game
                                    for Carson P Boyd III

On that uncertain Friday night
          twenty-six years ago, I said,

“Why wait ‘til Monday? Pour the rest
         down the drain and make

that call.” He did and lived eighteen
        more years moving easily along

the northern California blue highways,
        helmet on, pedals spinning,

“up to sixty miles a day,” he’d say,
        cruising that rugged coast.

This led to the last cigarette; he
        burned the pack—an effigy

to honor life. He bought a used Porsche
        and drove that along

those same roads, not James Dean style
       this time, quieter, enjoying

the scenery, the way the wind shot through
       his hair. And when the wayward

cells arrived in his groin, lungs, brain,
       for two years he fought and fought.

Blacktop Passages fall 2014

Wally’s Sister

A few minutes before 9:45,
she ties the back of his johnny,
takes his medical alert necklace.
He tries to speak,
but words are garbled.
When he goes in,
she flips on the remote,
finds Animal Planet. Today
it’s about humans
with rare bacterial and fungal diseases—
graphic images, suspected causes,
prospects, outcomes. Not the best
viewing in an oncology unit,
but she’s unfazed, fascinated
by what she sees, hears. Lonely
I imagine, spending every morning
driving her younger brother—
“He looks older,” she tells me—
to treatment, and on Fridays
chemo at another site.
She retired in 2004, works
under-the-table two days a week
to make ends meet, asthma
out of control, no time
for back surgery. Red painted toenails
peek out of well-worn sandals,
legs very tan, bleach blonde hair,
two plastic barrettes frame her face.
Some days the out-of-control
four-year-old is with her,
single mom works,
the other grandmother
doesn’t help out.
A hard life
evident in the lines on her face,
vacant look when the TV is off.

Artwork by Gene McCormick

The Wild Goose (circa 1978)

When clock hands crawl
from eleven to twelve
in a warehouse with a front office
on a back road to LAX,
six of us get in cars
for the short drive to the Goose
for a $2.95 prime rib, mashed
with two sides,

and a small cover charge.
The real draw are the dancers.
Kit, Paul, Harry and I
sit alongside Shelley
and Cheryl as dancers
strip down to thongs
or colorful panties—
one with a bright yellow

tweety bird—smiling
as they find the pounding
rhythm in favorite songs.
Bouncers are there, never
see a fight or inappropriate
behavior, but never go
after work or on Saturday night.

I wonder where they are,
those young women who kept
the incessant beat day after day
in front of a roomful of men
in jackets and ties, some
with tee shirts and jeans,
and the women who watched—
what did they really think
of this cacophonic scene?


Marc Swan, a retired vocational rehabilitation counselor, lives in coastal Maine.
Poems recently published in Gargoyle, Crannóg, Chiron Review, Nerve Cowboy, among others. His fifth collection, all it would take, was published in 2020 by tall-lighthouse (UK).