Lake Effect, Spring 2013, Volume 17: Swallow

Frank Paino



Spring again and outside our hotel window swallows raise

their raucous cries between branches that bear only

the faintest blush of jade.  I watch you, still lost to dreams,

a knife-edge of sun slicing the length of your perfect neck

and I’m back to yesterday, to the Mutter’s two dwarfed

galleries, their brass and polished cases hung with human grief:

a young man’s throat flayed and pinned wide to unveil

the tumor that finally choked back his last breath;

twins molded pelvis-to-face in a grotesque parody of

pleasure; the toothless woman, mouth agape,

whose corpulence turned her to soap inside her grave;

countless rows of bone eaten to lace by syphilis and deep

drawers filled with objects swallowed and later retrieved—

dental work, buttons, children’s toys and a puzzling host

of unclasped safety pins.  We passed an hour or more amongst

the wreckage of so much flesh.  Long enough to remind me

why I don’t have faith in any god...long enough to make the lovers

who moved behind us press so close I knew their night would

end sooner than most in the comfort of their rumpled bed.

What better salve for sadness than such bliss?  And we,

having had our fill of things unsound, stepped back into

the street where the seemingly-whole wrapped their coats

against early evening’s chill and carried themselves to the places

strangers go while we drifted, arm in arm, back to the hotel

where you opened your thighs, luminous as  x-rays

in the fallen light, and I swallowed the damp gathered there

then entered you as a swimmer enters a warm, solemn lake,

and  we slept, limbs entwined, while the Milk Moon moved

across the sky until  morning swallowed it whole, just like

the light that vanishes halfway  down the throat of that

nearly-bottomless cave in Mexico where swallows rise in

unison each dawn, unspooling from darkness in a fluttering iris,

round and round until, at last, they spill into daybreak and

disappear toward the far horizon.  I think their swift ancestors

must have mesmerized Cortes and his men, made them

draw back their reins and watch a while in wonder.  I want

to believe the sight of  those thousand-thousand wings lifting as one

made the soldiers stay their torches a heartbeat or more before

they wicked the forest into a second sun to burn their way back into

paradise.  And I want to believe they wept to see those birds chase

cinders they mistook for prey until their flight became a smolder,

then a stillness as they fell back to this earth which, however broken,

beckons us to drink deep.  Swallow.  Deeper still.