Occasional Verse

In the Waiting Room of the Clinic    -    The Social Contract    -   On the Longing for a Cigarette    -    Gazing

The Birth of the Banana Republic!

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

A Garland for the Groper

The Great Gas Bag   --    One for the Groper!   --   The Fish Mistaken for a Man   --  Taps, Muted   -   American Bouillabaisse
"The Great Gas Bag," "One for the Groper!," "Taps, Muted" originally appeared in The Berkshire Edge; "The Fish Mistaken for a Man," in Tikkun


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 ethics of evolution.

© Jon Swan

The Social Contract

God knows why you should pick on me
to save your soul from dissolution here.
But I have seen your forward grin become
a signal of distress as you attempt
to fathom what I, a stranger, make of you.

I shall, accordingly, provide a smile
which you may take to mean that we have met
and that I do, indeed, recall your face;
while I, in turn, interpret your relief
to mean that I am someone in your eyes.

© 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
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

Jon reading

The Story Line

It’s always time in times like these
to watch the news. It turns you on
and keeps you glued. The story line
involves you in the latest crisis,

then puts you on an escalator
headed for the upper floors of fear.
You could get off at the commercial
break, but if the threat is real,

as advertised, would that be wise?
You’re getting used to being nervous.
It would be a letdown to be calm,
the unreal calm before a storm

big enough to make a movie of.
So up you go, feeling ready
for a higher level of anxiety,
as if fear itself had made your brave.

Of course, you’re not the only one
who’s headed up. Look around, you’ll see
the whole impatient news-hooked nation
staring as the made-for-TV story

builds to its climax. The ratings soar.
There’s money to be made from war.

© 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


One for the Groper!

Behold a geezer named Donald --
a groper, not a Gipper, like Ronald.
A lecherous phony,
he extrudes yards of baloney,
and when he ad-libs sounds addled.

© Jon Swan

The Fish Mistaken for a Man

I tried to explain that I was innocent, that
I had been talking about a bottom feeder,
a fish, and, under questioning, explained

groupers are ray-finned, and are typically
stout-bodied and large-mouthed, and that
their mouths and gills form a strong suck-

system which can suck their prey in from
a considerable distance, known in politics
as a sphere of influence. As I spoke, I saw

the eyes of my interrogators slid sideways
as if to say You gotta be kidding, which was
not so. I had, I insisted, been talking about a

not of a hominid who might or might not be
ten fingers shy of a load, aye, a ten-fingered
fish out of water, out of his depth, not even

elected by a self-decreed landslide, although
it’s true that a grouper can weigh up to 220
pounds, heft of a groper wearing a long, red

© 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

American Bouillabaisse

Hooked and hauled in, flung down onto the sand to flap,
arching, flopping, struggling to work its way back into the sea,
the whole Atlantic cheering it on, wave after wave, willing it
home, but the scales soon loose their sheen under the sun and
         the glow in the eyes goes dull.

Born consumers, we couldn’t resist the bait.

And now to be part of the stew, the American bouillabaisse,
all of us schooled to believe that more is never enough no matter
how much we already have -- the fish and fruits de mer bubbling,
the fragrance rising like incense as the host raises his wine glass and
         all drink to each other’s health.

Globally bubbling, ready to serve. That’s us.

Lord, what a fairy tale! You couldn’t make this kind of thing up
up, up, and away, as the saying goes -- or went back in the day when
Superman, alias Clark Kent, was a reporter on a major metro daily and
could perceive, from his pov high in the sky, the soup we were in as we,
         feeling the heat, cried out to Clark:

Save us, Clark, for we are lost in space and running out of time.

And as we cried, the lid closed over us like the dome of an astrodome,
and the heat rose and the cheerleaders leaped high into the air, and indeed
the whole stadium rose up as if goosed, as if bleachers and boxes were wired.
And a cry went up: God save the Wurlitzer! as the great organ glowed red and
         swelled like a boil about to burst.

Save us, Clark, for it’s like a sauna in here and getting hotter.

Then it was that the specter of Al Haig, gripping the arms of his wheel chair,
cried out, “I’m in charge here!” while Mike Pence, scalped by his own halo,
still smiled as Haig rolled out onto the field, which opened like a gigantic mouth
responding to a dentist’s instruction, even as Clark struggled to don his garment
         in the tight squeeze of a phone booth.

Too tight. Too hot. Too late. And nobody left to turn down the heat.

Jon Swan

I. Flight from Manhattan II. Living Inland
IV. Arrival & Departures

V. The Ones Who Got Away