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Cloud meditations



Selected poems


Cloud meditation

Even when I was a child,

I had a distinct intuition that I had lived

previous lives in which I was trying to


enlighten others around me. I find

most people are not receptive, and, to

an astonishing degree, they think that


they know so much more than I do

when the truth of the matter is that

they know barely anything of what


they speak at all.

I spoke with someone the other day

who told me about a person who gave


workshops on cloud meditations,

that after anyone took a class of his

they looked at the sky differently.


Although when that teacher

wanted to meet with the person

I spoke with at twilight to gain


a different perspective on looking at

the sky, they didn't go since they said

it was too hot at that time of the day.


I neither believe in someone who

teaches cloud meditations,

which resonates with such new age


shallowness it could be what

the Fort River looks like after

a drought summer, with no rain for


six weeks; or anyone who doesn't

follow through on anything due to

the heat at a certain time of day


if it really has the import for them

that they claim. I would trust neither

person with any modicum of truth.


Whatever truth you could offer them

they would hand it back to you, and

say, this isn't truth, this is just


another cloud in the sky.

Whereas, an artist or writer invested

in their craft, a J. M. W. Turner,


painting clouds, and not just

giving classes on meditating on them;

or, myself, might write:


     clear summer day —

     clouds shapeshift and vanish

     over the Peace Pagoda.




Ode to the letter 'A'

Initial vowel

that always reminds us that


we are beginners who are

about to begin, where would


we be without you? How

would our school year


dreams of the best report

cards be without you to strive


toward? Where would our

ability to describe a sneeze


be without the stress on you,

leaving God bless standing


alone as an answer to achoo!

And what about apple?:


the delicious and hardy

fruit of the discontent


in the garden between

Adam and Eve that provides


the first soft syllable before

that lusty crunch past


the skin and into the juicy

white pomaceous flesh?


What would our physicians

do when placing down that


popsicle stick tongue

depressor, as they peer


into our mouths and

look into our throats,


asking us to say ah, if not

for you? Where would


we all be if we didn't have

you to depend on when


we needed to express our

appreciation in our daily


salutations with one another

if we could not even begin to


utter auf weidersehen or y'all?

How would we ever possibly


think to start all of the words

that begin with a


in the lexicon of our lives

without you as our red letter?



Mall walker

If you arrive early enough

you can begin your laps before any store

opens, observe the business owners

and staff open for the day. It is

one of your only tacit social connections —


a retiree whom most people have

forgotten or who many no longer want

to see. Although the black and white

linoleum could be called an art deco

pattern, few would even think about its


mesmerising aesthetic. A saw whines

from a storefront closed for upscale design.

The worker whose dropped roll of tape

you fielded several months ago, like

a ground ball, waves in acknowledgment —


and you respond, appreciative of small

reciprocities. There is always someone

new rounding a corner, beginning

a lap of their own, often a pair of women

discussing their worlds, or a prospective


employee carefully holding

their job application as if it were a leaf

from the King James Bible or the Koran.

Sometimes an infrequent regular

comes your way: the professor emeritus


in economics, an octogenarian,

with whom you have traded courtesies.

And there is the young man,

plugged into his ear buds,

with whom you have never spoken to,


just off the bus, sipping his coke,

waiting on a steel bench until he can

begin his shift as a dishwasher

or prep cook, who always waves,

who is as much a part of your day


as you are his. No nationality is

excluded here, no one is castigated

due to gender. By definition

the air conditioned market-place is

of an egalitarian nature.


To window-shop or to purchase

is legal tender. To walk among

the indigent troops of retirees

for the sole sake of exercise is

an act of gratitude for those whose


practice it is to appreciate each

day as if it were the last.

One never knows if the person

you no longer see while walking

the mall is still here or gone


forever. Sterile yet not antiseptic,

the mall glimmers from tiled floor

to the skylights in the ceiling,

as the mall walker's soles step

almost soundlessly, as if over glass,


through a concatenation of the mall's

phantasmagoric aquatic reflections

and its synthetic splendour, a swimmer

swimming through an otherworldly

but fabricated watery glitter.



Reading Tagore

'Nirvana is not the blowing out of a candle. It is

the extinguishing of a flame because day has come.'

— Rabindranath Tagore


Your words find me again this morning

in the cold spring sunlight,


reminding me of when I first found you,

reading the dulcet verses in Gitanjali;


and then later, after spending a night

with a friend on Clipper Street


in San Francisco, taking the bus back

across the Golden Gate,


early the next day, with one

of your books in my hands, having just


had a square of baklava

for breakfast; now over forty years later,


I am still not able to distinguish the taste

of honey in my mouth


from the lyricism in your poetry, as I

rode back to San Rafael,


over the bay in

Marin, Tamalpais a beacon in the near


distance; the green California hills still

lush after the winter rains.


Wally SwistWally Swist's books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love, The Daodejing: A New Interpretation, with David Breeden and Steven Schroeder, Invocation, and The Windbreak Pine. His forthcoming books are The View of the River, Candling the Eggs, and Singing for Nothing: Selected Nonfiction as Literary Memoir.

Topic tags: poetry, Wally Swist



submit a comment

Existing comments

Your poems spoke to me deeply - especially Mall Walker - about the sometime loneliness of the retiree. And Reading Tagore reminded me of a happy month visiting San Francisco some years ago now. Many thanks.

Helga Jones | 05 October 2017  

The eloquent interiority of your poetry is admirable, Wally.

John | 28 November 2017  

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