April is National Poetry Month. The Swarthmorean is grateful for the chance to share the work of our talented readers each week during this season of budding joy.
The last of winter’s hazing: a high gale
whacking through the branches, the brittle twigs
scritching each other, the chaff sent flying.
It’s grey up there, stick against stick, each limb
striking out blindly; fingers lost, and thumbs;
knuckles scuffed, elbows skint, arms abraded.
It’s no wonder there’s a fever starting,
a little flush, a swelling at the joints.
The tip of each twig’s cocked now to bursting
and, stick against stick, rubs itself rosy.
Look up: like a cloud left hanging over night
the grey’s blushing, dawning soft, a mauve air.
And then the flocking. Leaf on leaf stitched in
and overstitched, so hastily the thread’s
left dangling, stem stitch over laid stitch
over couching; wheat stitch on feather stitch
on thorn; crow’s foot over fly stitch on spider’s web.
French knot. Chinese knot. Whipped satin.
Thus the sheerest tulle layers into veiling,
the palest fern mantilla muffles into
mossy chenille. What was winter up to,
that seemed so raw, so cruel? It’s all grown
hazy, leaves cowling out, clouding over
the hard hardwood, shrouding the skeleton.
— Nathalie Anderson
Nathalie Anderson is Alexander Griswold Cummins Professor of English Literature at Swarthmore College, where she teaches courses in Victorian, Modern, and Contemporary Poetry (with a special interest in Irish poetry) and directs the Program in Creative Writing. Her poetry collections include Following Fred Astaire, Crawlers, Quiver, and Stain. Her poems have appeared in Atlanta Review, DoubleTake, Natural Bridge, The New Yorker, The Recorder, and other journals. Anderson is also author of four opera libretti, in collaboration with composer Thomas Whitman. Her chapbook, Held and Firmly Bound, is just out from Muddy Ford Press. A 1993 Pew Fellow, she serves currently as Poet in Residence at the Rosenbach Museum and Library, and she runs the listserv Lit-Philly, which advertises literary events in the Philadelphia area.
We left the dead tree standing
(Good for the birds, some say),
And eventually took no notice,
Of the gray branches bearing
But sparrows continually niggling.
The tree suffered them like feathered fruit that
Someone else had hung there.
Like the mind’s gadflies,
Placed by some god or other,
That pick and poke
Until their gibes have no meaning.
Inept pursuers of a dream
The petulant upon the sterile.
In the spareness of that tree
We charted our view of the world.
And the voices we heard
Over and over
Filled the spaces of our lives.
In another place, my daughter said,
“They cut down the tree.”
“You could see the sky, clear,” she said.
“No,” I said, “just empty.”
— Louise Coffin
Louise Lichtenberg Coffin grew up in Swarthmore, graduating from Swarthmore High School and Swarthmore College. She moved back to town with her husband, David, and their dog, Amy, in the summer of 2015. After teaching high school level English for more than three decades in Atlanta, she is delighted to be back in the Ville. Volunteer activities, the Pendle Hill Chorus, Swarthmore Senior Citizens’ Association, traveling, and writing take up her time.
Ladies, Of Course
Ladies, of course, are sentimental.
Mooning in their kitchens with a waxy shine
like tears, they touch the silvery throats of knives
and spoons and talk to the delicate sterling tines
as if they were boys, pitching hay.
Forkful by forkful, beads of sweat embossed
on his lip, tossing his gold with the numb, ungentle
hitch of someone who’s miles and miles away
from his body – his mind, in hers, transfigures their lives
and feeds her hot hungering not to be lost.
— Joan Landis
Joan Hutton Landis is the author of two books of poetry, That Blue Repair and A Little Glide. Joan taught literature and poetry workshops for many years at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she chaired the Liberal Arts Department. Her poems have appeared in a variety of publications, including the New York Times, Poetry, and Salmagundi. She and her husband Ken are now living at Plush Mills in Wallingford. “Ladies, Of Course” is reprinted from A Little Glide.