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Sample Poems by Mary Swander


From "Fireworks"

The day the levee broke,
the day the Mighty Mississippi washed
Maggie and Pearl, mother and daughter,
up on top of their catfish dive,
the river rushed through our tiny town
of Pompeii (pronounced Pom´pee),
with a whoosh, crack, bam-boom,
a power so Herculean that with one
swift slap of its hand, the water
knocked out all the windows
and tore the door right off
the hinges of Crazy Eddy’s Café.
The very gates of hell opened and
the Great Flood of the Twentieth Century
came crashing, dashing through.
Maggie and Pearl had been warned.
Sure, the whole town knew.
Any fool could’ve seen it coming.

Yup, and now ten years out
we’re all back here
at the Great Flood Reunion.
We sit in the café,
landlubbers and river rollers,
shaking our heads and clucking
our tongues about those bad waters,
the flow that carries us
back to a different time
when the very ground
under our feet gave way
and every twig we clung to
floated off beyond our reach.
And now ten years out,
we struggle to remember
that summer, think about where
we were and where we went
when the big wall hit.
We gather here together once again,
the living and the dead,
the seen and the unseen,
the genuine and the ghosts—
all who’ve come and gone,
each taking a place at a table,
in a booth or on a stool,
duct tape stuck to vinyl.
We gather once again
to piece together a tall tale,
a story too long and wide
for a single person to spin.
We tilt back our chairs,
watch turkey gizzards
swimming in the Mason jar
on the counter, hear the waves
lap at the banks outside the door
and realize just how lucky we are
to be here on dry land
with a beer in hand.

Pearl, as always, takes orders,
white apron tied around her waist,
pencil tucked behind her ear.
She scratches down our yarns
on her stained yellow pad,
and oh, we wish her near,
just a little closer, bending
her sweep of red hair,
her bosom, over our steaming
plates of eggs over easy.
Around and around,
we twirl, overalls
and rubber boots scraping mud
on the bottom rungs,
recalling that horrible year
when we thought
we’d never see the sun again.