Come Back to Me

Some of us mourn quietly. Some of us howl like wounded animals.


Turning a corner to drive home in Metairie,
I saw the road-smashed open flesh
of some small bird and heard
another nearby, calling
long and low, a violin bow drawn
across strings at the speed of loss,
the same Orpheian cry
echoing down hell’s hallway,
a mouth full of grief,
the soft sound of animals and birds
longing for the lost mate,
the stillborn child, the smashed egg. 

Quiet grief stands beyond my ken. If I mourn,
I mourn full tilt, my spine rammed
into the earth, my mouth a skyward horn.

My Texas granny once took me to see ballet—
Cinderella, who cried like a business plan.
She crossed her knees, dotted her eyes
with a lace hankie, and sighed a brief
musical sigh. Why can't you cry
like that, my grandmother chided,
so lady-like? I thought she was
addled, expecting me to turn
from howl to hankie. I cannot.

If you were to die
If you were to die this minute
and I would mourn you, all the neighbors
would hear, birds of paradise in Ecuador
would fall from branches, panting, the pillars
of Heaven would tremble and you
would have to come back to me.

Little Brother

The snapshot holds me at ten, leaning
my cheek onto his small head, my ever-
tangled horsetail hair pouring over his
natty crew. I think he has it easy.

He’s the good child, soul seared to gleam
by dad’s gasoline temper, kindled expectations,
while mother who loves him, polishes
his halo at the table, watches pot roasts
burn over their pink torsos.

Daily I count my father’s coin for a dutiful
daughter with good grades, music medals, his
daughter with go scarce smiles.
Little brother joins Cub Scouts
alone, never plays ball with dad, mows
neighborhoods of zoysia into velvet over and over.

He smiles, photo pariah, from under
my smothering hair, hands already folded
over his chest—years later he’ll try
braking his own heart. They’ll find him, a handful
of pills between his words and our understanding.
I still lean, ear to his wall, trying to hear his side.

Author Profile

Susan Swartwout was born in New Orleans and raised in Metairie, Dallas, and Atlanta. She is the author of the poetry book Odd Beauty, Strange Fruit, two poetry chapbooks, and co-editor of Hurricane Blues: Poems About Katrina and Rita and Real Things: An Anthology of Popular Culture in American Poetry. Her work has been published in Mississippi Review, Laurel Review, River Styx, Spoon River Poetry Review, Southern Quarterly, Delta Poetry Review, and many other journals and anthologies.

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