Occasional Verse


In the Waiting Room of the Clinic   -   Retired Angels' Benefit Package    -    On the Longing for a Cigarette    -    Gazing    -    Adjusting to Citizens United
Searching for McCoy in the Age of Replication

The Birth of the Banana Republic!

The Birth of the Banana Republic: Florida 2000      
The Man in Blue: Total Information Awareness    -   The Uniform   -      The Vial: 2/6/03

A Garland for the Groper

The Great Gas Bag   --   Taps, Muted   --   The Launching of the Slingshot Ride   --   The King of Bedlam   --    Conzoomerism, as the World Burns  

"Gazing" appeared in Tikkun; "The Great Gas Bag," "One for the Groper!," "Taps, Muted," "The launching of the Slingshot Ride," "The King of Bedlam"
appeared in
The Berkshire Edge;


In the Waiting Room of the Clinic

“We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy
that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures…”
Stephen Jay Gould

In the waiting room of the clinic, men and women seldom utter a word.
They flip through old magazines and then return them to the low table.

In the wall aquarium the fish swim back and forth, avoiding each other.
Do they ever have a story to tell! But they never learned how to speak

a foreign language, only their own, which we do not understand. Yes,
they wave their tails, but to propel themselves, not to convey a message.

Their innate ability to avoid one another while constantly on the move
impresses. They describe patterns of peaceful coexistence, while we,

despite our ability to speak, to explain, become vehement, even violent,
which may lead the gazing outpatient to question the evolution of ethics.

© Jon Swan


Retired Angels' Benefit Package

Retired angels require care as well as we.
Anecdotal evidence
suggests injured rotator cuff may be
the leading cause

of pain among those who bridge the gulf
between Heaven
Hub and planet Earth,
and back again.

Each retiree receives a health-care package
that includes gem
therapy, pressure-point massage,
and hot-tub time

after exercise on mats with weights.
Light sports, short flights,
complete the cure. Among the sundry
amenities offered by

Our Father’s Rehab: unrestricted use
of the Intelligent Designer’s own golf course!
All units (please see brochure)
afford a view to die for.

© Jon Swan

On the Longing for a Cigarette
(suggested by Rutger Kopland’s Over het verlangen naar een sigaret)

Dismissed from the forecourt of heaven
for being unable to provide a light!
Who could have guessed they smoked
up there, while we, for our sins, quit,
and spent all those years longing
for a cigarette.

Just the smell of the tobacco as you opened
the pack, foretaste of solace, the jolt
of the first inhalation, the cloud
in the mouth, holding it in, letting it
stream slowly out through your nostrils,
the blue smoke

of the first cigarette, and a whole pack to go!
The sense of risk, the half-buried awareness
that you’re killing yourself, which confers
its specific gravity on the ritual of
inhaling and exhaling the cloud
in your mouth

instead of simply taking a breath. The gravity
is that of an actor playing the dual role
of suicide and mourner. You’re the author
of this drama and it holds you in thrall,
but you won’t be around for
the curtain call.                

© Jon Swan


As when the earthquake rocked Candlestick Park in 1989
and bleachers rose and fell as if a wave passed under and
we sat, breathless, gazing, waiting for the next wave, for
the shaken stadium to crack,

so now we, sitting on the sidelines, as it were, on bleachers
in a stadium of our own, may nightly observe, spellbound,
in passive fascination, the deft undoing of what we once
had thought would long endure.

© Jon Swan

Adjusting to Citizens United

Yo, Ebenezer!
What say we trim that beard and
those bushy-sprouting eyebrows.

Shave the beard. Get a face!
Cut loose those goofy galluses
and wear a belt.

Suit up, Dude. Take stock.
Remember: you’re a corporation,
not just a man.

© Jon Swan

The Birth of the Banana Republic!


The Birth of the Banana Republic: Florida 2000

Not all the hurrahs could be counted, of course,
the skies being crowded, as usual at the season,
with pundits in holding patterns, and everywhere
the terrible shards of breaking news. Stick your head
out the window and, buddy, you're dead.

The photo of the kid holding his beach bucket
up to the sky to catch the cheers as they fell
will surely win a Pulitzer. Unless it goes
to the topless babe holding her cups out
and wearing shades -- a pin-up of blind Justice.

Nothing's surreal anymore in God's country!
The court has ruled against Buñuel et al.
The consumption of bananas in public
shall no longer be permitted. Who picks
the prez is the biz of the beholden Supremes.

© Jon Swan

The Man in Blue: Total Information Awareness

In dreams between the milkwhite sheets the man
in blue may steal into your room

who holds the jar in which you once caught
fireflies He has all night to snatch

the smile from your lips if you should smile
to introduce as evidence at your trial

He holds the net in which you once caught
butterflies and has all night to net

thoughts you thought were private as
your mail once was You'll never guess

it has been opened You'll never know
who your accuser was or who

sentenced you -- a citizen grown alien
through internal emigration

as documented by the man in blue
who knows you better than you know you

© Jon Swan

The Uniform

The coup did not occur at some o’clock,
but as the language underwent estrangement.
You couldn’t understand unless you knew
beforehand, unless you had been trained.

Once you got the hang of it you wore it
like a uniform you could not remove
at night but slept in, and only dreamed
you had a skin that could be pricked.

The language was not altogether foreign,
but with German it had this in common,
that nouns began to do things on their own.
Therefore what you did was not a crime.

© Jon Swan

The Vial: 2/6/03

Citizen in the back of the room,
hold your applause until
the end of the program–

the show-and-tell, with the diagram
and the doomsday vial
held between forefinger and thumb,

the most powerful nation on earth,
selling snake oil.

© Jon Swan
A Garland for the Gasbag

The Great Gas Bag

The Great Gas Bag

Zero leaks and flees
escapes like gasses
self-inflates into balloon
rises in his self-esteem

Eyes rise in mute salute
Stiff arms follow suit
There is no uniform
that doesn’t fit a man

who waits to be begun
to join a regiment
of rage in which each
issued shirt turns brown

Let all hell break loose!
Let each his business
do in accordance with
the mood transmitted

by the big balloon in
nods and bobs in lingo
if it makes no sense no
matter He’s the boss

the commanding zero
the helium hero who
rules gassy heaven
like a combusting sun

Jon Swan

Taps, Muted

Of him it can truly
be said he was all bully
and no pulpit,
a bully who blamed others
when he was the culprit,
a master of ballyhoo
who blew his own trumpet,
and ruled by tantrum and tweet.

What to do with a leader
who leads us backward step by step?
Best would be
store item in a cool, dark place
pending return to sender.

Jon Swan

illustration by Joan Griswold

The Launching of the Slingshot Ride

Ticket taken take your seat buckle up and wait
until the roller coaster starts to move you slowly
then ever faster until you grip the sides and start
to scream with something that is akin to laughter

but terror’s neighbor whose arm you clutch as up
and almost over and then down you go screaming
whoa wow eyeballs bulging larger than the sockets
will allow like the eyeballs of the ocellated blenny

Everyone is screaming so it must be fun

as the roller-coaster cars shoot as if rocket-launched
suddenly upward and then stick way up there in thin
air suspended docked above the expanded landscape
breathless eager for dreading what will happen next

before plunging from a height of four-thousand feet
above the ever-rising sea level then looping up gut-
wrenchingly again until… Dead ahead the final mile
of iron track remains unlaid owing to the reluctance

Lo! The final mile of iron track remains unlaid

of the oligarchs to make pledged donations until such
time as they receive assurance that each in turn shall
have a shot or crack at governing a fractious nation
So the Slingshot flings us howling into outer Space

Who knew? We all bought into the ride

Jon Swan

The King of Bedlam

Bedlam, the colloquial name of London’s Bethlem Royal
Hospital for the mentally ill, was regarded as a tourist
attraction in the eighteenth century. The word came to
mean “mayhem,” “riotous confusion,” “chaos.”

The King of Bedlam wears no jacket, but see
how with his hands he clasps himself straitly --
hands clamp’t under armpits, arms crossed over chest,
as if, unless so constrain’d, His Majesty might burst!

The King of Bedlam is a portly tun
whose three-legged stool he takes for a throne.
He says one thing twice, then over and over
and snorts and tweets like a pig in clover.

No jacket’s needed for such as fool as this.
In love with himself, himself he would kiss.
Hand him a looking glass, what will he do?
He’ll play the coquette and commence to woo.

Crowds gather to stare at this Humpty Dumpty
on days when His Majesty’s not feeling grumpy.
Then he’ll caper and clap and grin so wide
you can see for yourself that there’s nought inside.

Jon Swan

Conzoomerism, as the World Burns

We amble in as if we owned the place,
then slow to a museum-gawker’s pace
to stare spellbound at acquired treasure
that conjures dreams of a golden leisure

as advertised on whichever screen
and every upscale magazine,
encouraging us to buy and buy,
for the economy must grow or die.

Thus, our zip-code selves are traded,
mined, and stored, our privacy invaded,
and our movements tracked as if by
a company gumshoe or private eye.

The press is in on the consumer game,
hustling glamor, bewitched by fame.
And while the occasional article
may remind us of the global hell

we have some role in stoking,
Fashion and Travel go on stroking,
urging readers to follow fashion
and fly to exotic places on vacation,

leaving their carbon imprint in the air,
and lastingly in the atmosphere.
Commercial-saturated TV is doubly
shy of taking on the climate story.

Meanwhile, the fossil-fuel people
lubricate our politics with oil
and contaminate the Senate floor
with every purchased orator.

Pulpit preachers, as a golden rule,
shun politics. But is not silence criminal
when God’s creation is at stake.
Speak! Speak out for Heaven’s sake!

Jon Swan

I. Flight from Manhattan II. Living Inland

V. The Ones Who Got Away