Wally Swist

Autumn: Ansonia, 1962

It was the autumn that Kennedy
visited the impoverished Housatonic Valley

and his motorcade drove through downtown
Ansonia, past the parochial school where two

of my buddies and me ran behind the president’s
limousine, big-eyed, waving our small hands

in the air, until he turned around and offered us
the indelible memory of his inimitable

charm, in smiling and waving back.
It was also the autumn my father took off

his black armband forever, after having worn
it for a year to honor my mother’s death

the autumn before. He dated a woman from
the Polish neighborhood. Once we went to

the drive-in, where they both sat in the back seat
and left me in the front seat behind the wheel,

where I actually felt like the adult every time
my father’s girlfriend said, Are you sure

you’re alright, we wouldn’t want you to go
cross-eyed looking at the film through

the spokes of the steering wheel, between
the long silences that buffered the mystery

of the pillowed darkness in the back seat.
Never once did I look back, but kept my eyes

on James Stewart and John Wayne
in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

My father’s girlfriend had won me over,
especially after we went to a Saturday

afternoon Wrestlemania, where she took me
over to the ring before the matches to meet

such luminaries as Bobo Brazil whose specialty
was the Coco Butt; farm-fed Haystack Calhoun;

and menacing Killer Kowalski, the hero
of factory-working Poles. Although it was

the autumn that I came to know the way
the cold moves in at twilight in New England.

How it settles within you with pervasiveness
that is tantamount to the falling of night,

with all of its stars flickering across the dome
of the sky. On such an evening, after I had

made various chemistry experiments
in large pots in my father’s girlfriend’s

kitchen, I played on the porch with a fellow
student from Saint Michael’s, a blonde-haired

girl, named Veronica. How we moved
across the wide porch of the old Victorian

on a Connecticut mill town Saturday night.
It was as if we danced, without touching, our

nine-year old hearts warmed with each other,
as our breaths smoked in the cold night air,

entranced by the magnetism of one another,
graced with the mysticism of not knowing why.

Wally Swist's books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012), The Daodejing: An Interpretation, with David Breeden and Steven Schroeder (Lamar University Press, 2015), and Invocation (Lamar University Press, 2015). Some of his new poems appear in Commonweal, The Galway Review (Ireland), The Linnet’s Wings (Ireland), North American Review, and Pulp Literature (Canada). One of Swist’s poems was recently read by Garrison Keillor on the daily radio program The Writer’s Almanac.