Swimming Through Water

by George Wallace

Sample Poems

god makes a note to himself

things to permit to occur without interruption:
a bird in flight a child in prayer oceanspray windsong
the progress of the sun through day

a cat who sleeps in a widow's lap
kindness forgiveness mercy gratitude
a man offering honest explanations

the birth of angels the mending of bones
any parent in the act of unseen sacrifice
a cloud washing itself of the earth

the docking of a ship by a wooden pier
white snow falling from a silver cloud
rain that blows across an unsown field

a cat who sleeps in a widow's lap
old men shaking hands with each other
death cheated vengeance denied

hope luck second chances
good advice freely offered
headlights on an empty road

the reappearance of fireflies in july

campsmoke rising in the direction of heaven
the blue sound of church bells at dusk
a cat who sleeps in a widow's lap

the mere mention of a flower

any soldier who desires to lay down his weapon
and turn his face in the direction of home

the missionary who could save anything

after six days under a nicaragua lake
she thought she was capable of saving anything
so while the rest of us sat there she got on the truck and off it
the coordinator of women and community who sat with her face in her hands
the boy from managua who was battered and his teeth chattering
the judge who was wearing his black cap and thick sunglasses
even angel, who had been hired last year to guard the food warehouse
it was night, hundreds were drowning at the site of the new town
but the missionary who could save anything asked us all to hold hands
and be thankful for the force of providence in our future lives
a telephone was going ring ring ring in the mud
she thought she could save that too


swimming through water

some folks get the message late but they get the message
some folks never get the message at all but they carry the message on them
some folks are the message carried by a gulfstream of fresh water
some folks are water passing through water passing through oceans
some folks dance through water like diamonds some folks dance through walls like stars
some folks wonder what all the twinkling is about up there in heaven
some folks keep their eyes to the ground some folks keep on digging water with shovels
some folks never ask the obvious questions some folks answer questions nobody has even asked them
some folks don't ask anything at all but they make a living somehow
some folks are having a nice old time of it doing a backstroke into the wind
some folks have the taste of velvet in their mouths, or maybe it is only the desire for violets
some folks live without eyes in the languid underground pools of planet earth
some folks say hey man it's warm down here can you feel this, can you feel that
some folks decide to look for rocks in the desert, or acorns, or life on mars
some folks ask them what is your problem anyway things are pretty good right here right now
some folks stand on top of a mountain and they do not hear the volcano coming
some folks say look i mean there's no ice anywhere and the sweet motion of the clouds
some folks are swimming through water when the mountain explodes


a blue eyed man with a box of paint

a blue eyed man with a top hat and a box of paint
and a good silver cane and one glass eye

paints a sky where sky has never been
because it is possible that angels are also blue

and sunlight, he paints that in the faces of children
because they wander in a terrible forest of wooden spoons

and where ever a house or maybe a river should be but is not
the man with the top hat and one glass eye paints a cloud

in the manner and precision of the artists in the land of his birth
the one he was exiled from at the age of twenty-three

because he was taught at the institute for arts and letters
to believe that it is possible for even a small cloud

to lead a nation which has gone off its course
in a new unexpected and decidedly better direction


inside the cascade cafe

a man walked into the cascade cafe and went up to the bar.
give me a beer with plenty of eternity in it said the man.
the bartender stared past him and continued polishing glasses.
is this eternal enough for you? said the bartender.
just then the executioner's beautiful daughter walked in.
a swift wind began to blow. a handful of napkins danced out the front door.
the bartender and the man could not help but stare.
there's no electricity in this place, said the man to the bartender.
how can it be that the overhead fan is turning?
the bartender waved his hand with a manifold flickering motion.
when a man attempts to stop the sun, he said, big trouble is certain.
after awhile the lights came back on. there was a festival all over town.
inside the cascade cafe, death stood closer to every man.
the bartender handed the man his beer.


the girl who looked so long at the moon she became a moon

the girl who looked so long at the moon she became a moon
circles a boy at a bar who is drinking local beer
a lot of it actually, out of green glass bottles they bottle it in
he is leaning forward listening to the band and drumming his hands
the girl who became a moon is not leaning forward or watching the band
she is circling the boy, the boy at the bar, the boy, the boy
his hair is black, his eyes are black too, and the fingers he is running in his hair
they are very white, and the girl who looked so long at the moon that she became a moon
imagines running her fingers through his hair like that
and her eyes are green


the boulder on the shelf

the boulder on the shelf sings apple songs
clearing his nose he makes dust out of children
there is no malice in his bones
lips and toes and seed and lonely fingertips
that cold morphine stare is just for the hell of it
the boulder on the shelf makes sugar bleed from unsweet rivers
from the flesh of women he has made a love rise supreme
there is a silk monkey on the shelf
he listens to everything and is erect as a fir tree
three dead philosophers keep to themselves
an author from missouri explains the dead geography of white crewel
jazz memories of the whitney sisters retold
rich men sail their boats in many oceans
how to make a contour map of the gone planet
how to disarm a mugger, as seen through a photographer's eye
the pupils of the boulder on the shelf glow black, but not with anger
he speaks with the imprisoned grace of princes
my world is song the fragrance of heaven
says the boulder on the shelf
apple blossoms, the freshness of flowers
watch me fall

a poem about policemen and ice cream and bees

we have a few concerns, the detective said, regarding this recent poem of yours.
which poem i asked. you know the one he growled.
it is about a suburban woman who locks herself in a potting shed.
and she plants herself feet first into a couple of large clay pots.
and she begins raking the soil "vigorously" around her ankles.
the idea was a pretty good one, but i had heard it before.
anyhow, i had not written that particular poem.
what's the problem officer, i asked.
well we want to know what happened to the rake.
i handed him a rake, the first one i could find.
handle end first, you learn that kind of thing in boy scouts.
thanks, said the detective. now where's the woman.
i led him through the kitchen and pointed out back.
suburban women were planted everywhere.
in between them there were weeds, and plenty of them.
she's probably back there, i said, one of them. the one with the blonde wig?
he sent some men in back to investigate.
but the woman they were looking for wasn't in my back yard.
sorry to bother you, said the detective. no problem i said.
did you have a close look at that redhead, i asked.
over by the pear tree, i'm thinking she's infested with hornets.
that one? he said. she looks all right to me.
no, i'm sure it's bees i said. then i handed all his men rakes and a little shovel each.
they agreed to stay awhile and clean up, suburban living needs so much assistance.
while the policemen were out back working i got myself some ice cream and sat on the deck.
and i wrote a poem about policemen and ice cream and bees.


perhaps a man is not alone if

perhaps a man is not alone if he is walking through the night empty as a glass of air, and he is turning his thoughts on and off like a radio in a farmhouse so far from the world at this hour that the only sound is static, and he hears something behind him, over one of his shoulders, there, but when he turns to look it is only the country lane he walks on and it is quiet as a movie theater long after all the patrons have gone

and perhaps the man stops by a group of trees at the crossroads, where he think maybe a long time ago there was an encampment of hobos or homeless men, and he walks into a small clearing in those trees where there is enough moonlight for him to peer eyes down in the darkness to the ground

and perhaps he finds the remains of the hobo camp, a few rusted out tin cans, skeletal, ashes, ashes, a few blackened stickends, the crossed remains of an old campfire

and perhaps the man pushes the toe of his left foot gently into the remains, and he hears in the darkness two of the tin can skeletons rattle together, and he looks up at the moon, and the sound it makes is no sound at all;

what i mean is, perhaps a man is not alone in a grove of trees at the crossroads where the hobos used to camp if he kicks a can and there is an owl to hear it, and the owl makes a fluttering noise, which is no sound at all

if only there is an owl, flying away


the difference between a rose and the light which falls on a rose

you know that sad odd angle of the day when the world goes rusty and surreptitious as an old garden saw
and some people who steal from their neighbors all day are told not to think about the errors they have made
but they do anyway and they are wistful about it for awhile but keep it to themselves and they go on stealing
and some people who work with their bodies for a living and are okay about that and don't think about it much
and their arms are tired their backs and leg muscles too and unless you cross them all they really want is a beer
and they get a beer and stand to one side and don't say nothing, maybe just a short barking laugh at something
let me explain this thing: you have your average bum or hobo who has sleepwalked through the heat of the day
and now he is drinking from a bottle in the park, the bottle was only filled yesterday at the end of the road
and the wine in that bottle is good country wine it is so rich and true he can still taste the footprints in it
you have your lovers who are sitting in the courtyard at a table for two in the middle of town over white linen
they are lining up their eyes to the fallen deeply angular horizon of sun and the sun passes between them,
back and forth between them, like it never passed through the bodies of any two things on this earth before
you have your woman alone in her room who keeps reaching into her heart like a purse to throw things out
every day about now she reaches the bottom and realizes that her heart is full for the first time in her life,
she realizes her heart is never empty, every day she wonders why she isn't more glad to have discovered that
i'm talking about that sad odd moment when the sun is about to go down on you and you know it but it hasn't yet
the exact sun which has been staring at the rose hill so long that it has nearly become the color of roses itself
and in order to see this world with both passion and clarity you have to look at it with a different set of eyes
not necessarily the eyes of a person who has pumped his veins with visions in order to have vision either
but someone who can see the world on his own terms and the sun's, on the rose's terms and on no terms at all
someone who can honestly see the difference between a rose and the light which falls on a rose


the spider who lives on the face of a martyr

the martyr in the blackberry bushes trailing half a skein of yellow thread pulled from his wool cardigan
& of course there is a scratch of dark blood which wells artistically across one cheek, nice touch
& a spider blazing a bright trail straight to nowhere over his right eyebrow
(this says the martyr with a sigh would be my temple, he is forever correcting everything i say about him)
he emerges victorious and with a handful of bruised berries for his children to enjoy -

he seems in a big hurry, the spider i mean, having discovered that he lives on the face of a martyr
i mean it is as if he needs very badly to get to somewhere else, and quickly, back to something
he can't remember what it was, only that there is somewhere he needs to be which is not exactly this place,
the spider is confused, what has become of his world, once he lived among the blackberry thorns
but as it stands right now the martyr's face is his only planet & it is a frightening world especially for a spider

this is a world with terrible storms unexpected volcanic eruptions & miraculous reconciliations
i am an adaptable creature, says the spider, i can deal with a lot of things
but this place is rough! perhaps, says the spider, there is somewhere on this planet a spider can go to relax
in the mountains or maybe at the seaside, some place where i can enjoy the gone yellow sand
maybe there is some friendly spider around here who can clue me

& therefore the spider who lives on the face of a martyr
has set out in search of a friend


numbers no one has ever seen before

one day in a steaming jungle three archaeologists looking for pre-columbian pottery discovered a burial mound full of numbers no one had ever seen before.

they became very excited, but at the same time a little nervous. like priests who had discovered that maybe their all-knowing god had been holding out on them. as if their god knew some truth about the world which they had never heard and always desired. as if their god had some admonition for mankind which priests should long ago have known about and told men to heed. in short, the three archaeologists felt like priests whose god was about to make a fool out of them.

"don't touch those numbers," shouted the first archaeologist nervously. "i think they're dangerous." "we have come here for pre-columbian pottery," said the second archaeologist, "not numbers. i think we should bury them." the third archaeologist coughed uncomfortably, and began to scratch his neck. "i'm not so sure," he said. "after all we are not priests. and besides, i'm curious. let's just try something."

he tried to dial the numbers no one had ever seen before into his cell phone. "don't be ridiculous," said the first archaeologist to the third. "you can't put numbers no one has ever seen before into a cell phone!" he snatched the phone from his colleague's hand and threw it into the jungle.

just then the cellphone began to ring. the three archaeologists leapt into the bushes looking for the phone. unfortunately, by the time the third archaeologist found his cellphone, whoever it was that he was trying to reach had hung up. "see what you've done!" he shouted, there were tears in his eyes.

the first archaeologist snatched the cellphone from his colleague's hand again, and threw it down into the pile of numbers. there was a sick crunch, quite a few of the numbers no one had ever seen before broke into little shards. "idiots," shouted the second archaeologist to the first and the third. "look what you've done. now we'll never know what those numbers mean."

that was that, no archaeologist likes being called idiot. the three archaeologists began quarreling.

they quarreled so loud the entire jungle woke up and began to talk in a language that no one had never heard before. but the three archaeologists were too busy quarreling, they didn't hear the language of the jungle.

in fact they quarreled so loud they didn't hear the cell phone, which had begun ringing again.


he was sent to the country to watch the wheatfields ripen

you dream too much, his grandfather said
so he sent his young grandson to the country to watch the wheatfields ripen.
but the boy dozed off, and he dreamed and he dreamed.
he dreamed he had a race with a tortoise
but the tortoise was persistent, the tortoise won.
so he learned persistence.
he dreamed he had a race with a hare,
but the hare knew fear, the hare won.
so he learned fear.

he dreamed he had a race with four doves
but the doves knew peace, the doves won. so he learned peace.
he dreamed he had a race with an eagle,
but the eagle knew hunger, the eagle won. so he learned hunger.

he dreamed he woke up, the wheatfield had grown a long white beard.
all around him the stalks of wheat hung their heads
like his grandfather does when he knows something about the world
and also knows that a boy is not ready to understand it.
he dreamed the wind was moving through the wheatfield like the sea
and the grain wanted to move like the sea
the grain wanted to escape the bondage of the earth
the wheatfield wanted to fly like the wind
until it reached the place where the sky meets the sea.
and he thought he finally understood.

''i will have a race with the wind' said the boy.
but the wind knew heaven, the wind won.

after the adults ate everything

we loaded our boat with sky we crossed the minimal ocean
we set sail to the precise location which all earth drifts toward anyway
the most beautiful coordinates you can imagine that all land all earth wishes it might escape to
this place only the clouds know it
look! someone said, the adults have eaten up everything whatever shall we do?
this one existed to exist this one existed to design this one existed to protest
this one existed to inflict pain this one to treat the pain which had been inflicted
we have set sail and we have flown faster than continents slower than the wind
this wind which has come from an enormous heaven bigger even than adults
a heaven that never changes its mind even if everything below it reverses direction
or else pretends it is full of innocence or else that it is only standing still


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