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December 2005, vol 1 no 3

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David Gershator

 

SWAN SONG IN THE RAMAPOS

You have to see this, my artist friend said.

She lived in a new and pricey subdivision with her husband and kids in the foothills of the Ramapos. Her husband, a computer whiz, naturally had the high income to go with hi tech. As for her, she could turn every rag into a kite tail and twist every scrap of wire into a kinetic creation. She had an over abundance of talent but I sensed a certain air of dissatisfaction in living where she was when she started to talk about flying lessons and parachutes. Momma don't jump, I said. Just kidding, was her response. Outer suburbia was not her fantasy, Greenwich Village more her speed.

A white soul sister—I felt for her out in the North Jersey sticks. But the dead woods were coming to life now. The sticks were turning green.

She led me down a trail into the woods behind her house where budding trees screened an ice cold lake—a glistening gash in the woods—sanctuary for an unexpected guest. Real poetry, a white dazzler, had dropped out of the sky into my friend's backyard.

I can imagine the sleeping swan floating on moonlight. I wonder if any film can capture it. She tells me she's tried but its not the same. The ambience is missing.

Why don't you do a poem about it? she suggested.

I can try but I doubt it will fly, I said, in my best Jesse Jackson mode.

Let's call it Yeats, Mr.Yeats, she offered.

Let's not. I prefer not to humanize it. Besides, we don't know if it's male or female.

How about a swan book—photos and poems? That might fly.

It was one of those spur of the moment ideas that will never take off, but it sounded good at the time.

The next time I met my artist friend I asked her, How's your swan doing?

Gone, she said.

What? It took off?

No, it's gone. Gone to swan heaven.

Seems in late spring or early summer the swan grew restless. Seeking a bigger lake? A mate? I can see it flapping its mighty wings, stirring up the lake, trailing water beads into the wild blue yonder.

It didn't make it—couldn't clear one of those big oaks, got snagged on a branch and plummeted to earth in a pile of glorious feathers.

such an operatic neck
and yet
not a sound

In its own quiet way—even dead—a swan is very, very loud. You know something great is missing from the lake, from the air, from Mother Nature's own planet. The mourning doves and I had something real to mourn about.

A mystery had come and gone. Why this swan, a single swan passing through? Why was it by itself? How many days did it lie there broken? Swans are supposed to rise above it all, damn it.

taking off
the wild swan leaves
its last reflection

My affair with the swan has never ended, but without the living swan the lake isn't worth a second look. Not that I'm looking ... the artist is gone, divorced from her husband and the Jersey woods. I hope she's happier in Vermont or New Mexico or wherever in some other state of mind.

The Vision has gone out of the subdivision—Swan Ghost Lake is not on any map except the virtual map of my own making.

White swan, dead swan, ghost swan, why does it ride me so? Gods die. Swans die ... This one weighs on me, like a leaden winter sky in the Ramapos.

secret lake
a lone swan
deepens the water

 

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