Degrees of Separation by Paul Swenson

440px-Ullstein-Thorak-Mutter_Erde_fec grave marker

Do the dead know when we speak of them?
Cell phone to my ear, I hear Alex say, €œYes,
every time we say their names €”it is like food
to them. € I’m in Liberty Park, watching

a gray squirrel negotiate the irregular bark
of a broad, green locust tree. €œYou
know, € he says to me. €œI didn’t think
to mention this before, because it happens

naturally, but Michael sometimes comes
to me at night. € Wait, I say, you mean my sister,
Michael? (Dead ten years this month.) €œYes,
your sister, € he says. What can I say? Since

month is May, led to recall €” today is birthday
of another sister, May, twenty-two years dead.
And at the overlook in Logan Canyon,
just this afternoon, a devotee cleared snow

to fix a plaque and make a space to raise
her poem, €œAbove Bear Lake, € wherein
she wrote of scabs of lovers’ notes,
welts inscribed in aspen trees. What

is this spell that rules the day? Another
poet, another cell phone call. My friend
Cheryl’s voice €”breaks, cuts in and out,
as she descends a hill by bicycle

in Carolina €”filled with distant ache
and doubt. She’s let the gremlins out
Pandora’s Box and cannot lock them
in again. At least, the living’s wounds

eventually reveal to us. Of the dead,
so far away, we only speculate. Alex,
do they hear us when we pray for them?
€œThey pray for us, € he says.


Paul’s first book of poems, Iced at the Ward, Burned at the Stake: And Other Poems, was published in 2003 by Signature Books. His second collection, In Sleep: And Other Poems, will be published in the spring of 2012 by Dream Garden Press.


3 thoughts on “Degrees of Separation by Paul Swenson”

  1. Intriguing, wise, and settled: the first, because the “prose” seems highly stylized at points, and, whether intentional or not, it lends personality and thus humanity in a way that nothing else might have; the second, because, in the grand tradition of the sonneteers, it comes to something unexpected and resonant; the third, because it hasn’t the feel of the hackney-coach meditation, but of reflection in stillness, like Wordsworth healed of his surprising joy.


  2. My favorite line is about the cell phone cutting in and out–like the imperfect connection wish feel we have with the dead (or wish we have?) And the image of her on a bicycle, descending… almost like the image of someone dying, or someone dead on their journey to… wherever.


  3. Sarah, your comments have been bring out the things I’ve been mulling in relation to these posts. Has anyone read The Third Policeman? That was a bicycle journey of doom.


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