Margaret Szumowski >

The Heron Flies Fast Over the River
Black Swans in an Iowa Springtime
My Father Blesses the Fleet



The Heron Flies Fast Over the River

Once the father watched a striped snake
catch a struggling toad. The hinged mouth
stretched wide. The snake undulated
from the yard, the toad in its mouth.
Today the father does not slump like a dead man
in his chair. He walks along the river
enjoying the yellow butterflies, deep
frog voices, the rush of water,
water so clear he sees the bottom stones.
Today, he surprises his wife, they’ll tube
the fast river. He hasn’t thought
of tubing or canoeing for years. He’s been old,
imagined his daughter dead Ophelia floating.
That goddamn guy.

This year the father’s garden holds Siberian
irises, orange cat-faced poppies, bleeding
heart, miles of daisies breezy
under the apple trees. So simple sic ling weeds
in the flower bed. “Not like trying to get rid
of other things around here,” he thinks.
He’s a man who likes a wild flowerbed
full of black-eyed susans, bold lilies, sky-gazers.
How to tear the fear from his mind?
Still the growing of delphinium and cosmos
makes him lift his arms to the sky.
When he turns, there’s his daughter lifting
a cigarette. One other thing he can’t stop.

He could kill that guy barehanded.
As he walks by the river, he knows
he and his wife will lie down under their
dark starry sky. They’ll see Deneb, Vega,
Altair, Swan in flight. He’ll finally
put up the purple hammock.
Even his girl is out on the river.
It’s hard for the father to believe,
his girl, pale, wading the fast-moving river
on a scorching day.



Black Swans in an Iowa Springtime

Everywhere is muddy and rich—
crops sprout up green,
barns burst with piglets, calves and lambs,
all good to the touch, calves licking us
with their blue tongues. Luxuriant surprise
in my homeland, just like the way we have all changed.

I love the look of black swans crossing small ponds,
preening themselves with orange beaks.
This is the Iowa I want, my father
soft with the children. He brushes
the dog’s coat to gold, holds
a child on each knee. We name

what is strong, wear the past
like a mourning cloak, tendrils rise around us,
their beauty sharp against
the fresh-turned earth.



My Father Blesses the Fleet

This barechested fellow who doesn’t know a bishop from a czar
wants my blessing for his shiny red bike
and here come all my stout-hearted children
floating by on fishing boats loaded
with cheering grandchildren, all of them waiting
for me to lift my arms.

My daughters married strong men
with arms like fishermen, boats tipping
with heavy loads, waters thick to shore
--swordfish and tuna and salmon and bluefish.
And my son, no weakling any more,
sings as he hauls the lines.

I picture all my afternoons sitting by the sea.
In my old age, they carry me to the water,
hold up my hands so I can bless them again.
When I’m dead they lift my red-robed statue,
halo wobbling, mounds of roses at my feet,
bikers and believers standing aside,
each grandchild
throwing another rose.

Even now I can’t tell myself.
None of them comes to see me
None speaks my name aloud.
I wanted to live my life out in the wind,
but I spent my days    in the ground.