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Poetry by Cadmus Swain


O Sweet Columbine of Thy Auburn-Tinged Hair


A hyphen held him hostage

for months. The ransom note

it forced him to write read:

Send love, money

and the oft-thought of, dog-

eared lexicon of grammatical matters;

I am becoming dissolute,

twined in thine eyes and mine

heart, whence from which, seekin-

g backward knowledge and high

sounds, mine tongue doth speak

in various circumloutions of what might

be said simply. What I'm trying to say is

help, please.




Mathematics of Loss



A short, tragic affair he thinks

and immediately corrects himself. Tragedy

implies loss, and the downward slide. Hair

plugging the bathroom sink, spine ripening

to an extravagant hump in a cold room in Pittsburgh.

He can't even remember her face. Italics


are a useless perfumed brood he writes

on cocktail napkins. The emphasis

should be the absence of punctuation, importance

defined by the absence of importance. The way

the shovel defined the Civil War. Don't

explain it, she said once. The third


time she left he sat in his kitchen

for six days. The mathematics of loss

involves calculations inversely proportional

to the sum of the parts. Descartes was

a coward who slept with his first cousin.

Sherman lusted after his sister and burned


Atlanta instead. A simpler way of saying

it would go something like: A man

who walks alone on a beach at night

without a stone in his hand does not profit

from considering how cool, how smooth

the stone might have been lying quietly


in the pale belly of his hand. Dreaming,

he trades his kingdom for a legion of skilled

monkeys. His monkeys for the hinge that resists

unhinging. The hinge glistening in the empty

doorframe, the miracle of friction. He knows

this isn't the point. This is the point


where the monkeys start typing. Ted Williams

he thinks, I want to be Ted Williams. So accurate

that the strike zone is defined by what you don't

swing at. Going out not with a bang but with a by

god bang. Or the longbow at Agincourt, his body

lengthening, curving, strung with plaited horse


hair and drawn tight. The thrum in his bones

as each arrow flew in a tight, lethal arc. All

this time you've been thinking of bathos

she says. Or perhaps pathos. Tragedy implies

a tragic flaw, and speed, quick, like a cat. Get the fuck

out of my head he tells the cat crouched beneath


the dead television.




Spring Training



He sits alone in the bleacher seats, ass

aching, afraid to go home to the empty kitchen,

booing both teams, the bat boy, that bastard Piazza,

that rich, fat son of a whore. If he closes his eyes

hes back in Wilkes-Barre, Sioux City, Wichita


Falls, breathing the rich smell of sawdust, listening

to the crowds, barkers working their pitches, noises

once familiar as his own nose: that expectant hum, ear

pressed tightly to the shivering hive. He'd stood there

each night, letting them all get an eyeful, sweat trickling


down the length of his back. Just as they got restless

hed turn, his long, furred tail uncoiling, like an orchid

blooming from the seat of his trousers. He was versatile,

and quick, could peel a banana in three seconds, play O

Susannah on the piano, part his hair, just with the tail, always


with the tail, his eyes lidded, half-closed. When Mabel

said it was the tail or him, the tail went. She shaved her full,

red beard and they settled down in Pensacola, bought a house

and a malamute. For years he was off-balance, leaning forward,

farther forward, then reeling back, drunk on some absence, always


stepping on the dog, losing his keys, the month of July. He

keeps the tail in a glass jar, the jar on the mantle. In the right

light it looks almost like a question mark, swallowing

its own curved head. You can ask it anything

youd want to know.