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.