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With his sable brush—slowly, very carefully—

he paints her nipples a colour she can’t see,

the paint all oily and slippery and rich.

He traces the curve of her belly

with his fingers, lingers, does it again.

“You like that, don’t you?” he asks,

and she says yes, but doesn’t encourage him—

not with her husband watching.



by Anne Swannell  



















1 – BIOGRAPHY:  Anne Swannell


Anne Swannell’s poems have appeared in numerous Canadian, American, and British literary magazines. She has published four volumes of poetry:  “Drawing Circles on the Water,” “Mall”  (Rowan Books, Edmonton,1991) “Shifting” (Ekstasis Editions, Victoria, 2008) and “Journey with an Autistic Child” (First Choice Books, Victoria, 2019). Anne’s mosaics, watercolours, and acrylics have been shown in many venues on Vancouver Island, where she lives (though she was born and attended school in the UK). Her most recent publication combines these art and writing vocations: she was selected as one of the postcard contributors to Rattle’s 2020 Postcard Issue. Anne has read her poetry in Canada, the US, Mexico, North Wales, and in London, UK.









Expectations.  Absences. 


Out there—somewhere in the fog—

a chunk of rock we’ve come all the way cross-Canada to see.

What we believe is there—have been told is there,

have seen photographs of,

is swathed in many-layered tissue now—


a gift from the gods that’s been withdrawn,

leaving us to conjure for ourselves   

sun through mist,

light on water,

                       water on rock,

chiffon ribbons               wrapping,


revealing                         swells that lift

                then drop away.


Like that time we went to Versailles

when every mirror in The Sun King’s Hall

had been taken for renovation.

We were not, as we’d imagined, multiplied.






With open palms, relaxed wrists, to loosen congestion

I beat your upper back like a drum—which

—according to your physician—must be done

if we want to keep you with us.

This week, it’s my turn.  I drum.  I drum.


How small you’ve become, how thin!

Your heart beat a rhythm like this one once

when I lay curled, feet upper-most, under your ribs

as your breath nourished me.


“Okay, time to cough,” you mutter, and summon

demon mucus from your lungs, spit

fastidiously into a tissue you will later burn. 

We begin again. I drum. I drum.


After this session, we’ll make tea, peel potatoes,

cut up onions for supper, go on—

as if your lungs were perfectly clear,

as though they were filled with nothing but pure air,

as though this were not a quest but an answer,

as if we were not

keeping time for that clicking rack of bones

who calls himself a dancer.

rom behind dead weeds—

ragged darkness against a luminous mist—

comes a sound and a silence.

One shackles us;

one sets us free.






He nips the buds on his chrysanthemums, is proud

of the giant blooms he gets—biggest on the block.

“Gotta cut ’em back,” he says, as though he invented it.


He grows five times as many vegetables as they need,

marches round the neighbourhood with carrots, onions, lettuce

for this one, potatoes for that, a huge bunch of spinach

for another. By bringing these he guarantees an audience;

he’s not altruistic. His wife times him and calls him for lunch—

or something—if he’s gone more than fifteen minutes.

She knows full well he’s never learned to listen;

she is both judge and guardian.


He wants to yard out all the dying asters, fading zinnias,

leggy petunias. “Wait a couple of weeks,” his wife suggests.

But as soon as she’s gone back to her knitting (sweaters

for Tommy, for Reed, for Lynette) the brown soil’s sifted,

freed from weeds, leaves, twigs, chaff——all in a day.

Nothing is left to seed itself; what comes up is his decision.


And so he has plotted, planted, uprooted.  So she has

chastened, chastised, and forgiven. So they have nipped

each other in the bud since the day they got married. So they

have made children, who are each doing well in their chosen profession,

who come rarely to visit. When they do, he’s glad—gladder still

to see the back end of them: their young ones are troublesome.

He likes to get things done and get back to his garden,

likes to get back to his garden and get things done






I'm driving my guy to the hospital

to find out what's wrong.

(Nothing by mouth after midnight,

be showered, shaved, there before six.) This is April;

we're on daylight-saving.  Dark still.


Vic General was hacked

out of hard grey rock and coastal forest—

Douglas Fir, Arbutus, tangled undergrowth,

coppery serrated leaves of the Oregon Grape

which apparently intend to invade the parking lot

though for all I know its bunchy yellow flowers

are only longing to be blue and globular.


I turn off the engine, walk over to the ticket machine.

It wants a toonie or my Visa card—

it doesn't care which.

We seem to be the only ones here at this ungodly hour.

Just a few cars reflecting the long arc lights

fluorescing over precisely-white-lined tarmac.


Though the branches of the trees

are black and dense

there’s one insistent little bird

whose tremulous notes pouring into the dark

could break your heart or fill it full of joy.







We could see them coming, endless, effortless

over the down-quilted lawn;

clouds of white bees, frantic with cold.


They seemed to well from the ground, to balloon

from trees whose boughs heaved great white sighs

when the wind shouldered them aside.


But it was the laughing girl in the yellow toque,

the boy walking with her

We focused  our attention on.


The way he looked at her, head cocked

to one side, hunched into his upturned collar,

the way she looked up at him, when


quite suddenly, as if there were no option,

they left the path with no discussion,  began

to build; he rolling the snow into a large ball,


she making a smaller one, placing it on his.

Both—quickly now—patting on snow

between the torso and the base, making it solid,


forming arms, at no point consulting

or correcting in any way; simply creating

the other creature, naturally, in their own image,


giving it eyes, a nose,

a mouth, even hair

from bits of sugary blown-down cedar.


Then she took off  her yellow toque, placed it

almost reverently on the creature’s head.

They stood for a moment to admire what they had done


and ran towards the trees.  We lost them then, were left

with the familiar rattle of cups and plates, metallic clatter

of cutlery trays, the usual after-class complaints.





Mother and daughter

shopping for lace

we slide the backs of our hands

between the gossamer layers

of bolt after bolt,

step back—for a priest’s-eye view,

a grandmother’s, groom’s—

searching for the perfect balance

of innocence / sin

of fabric and flesh,

opaque and transparent

positive / negative

pattern and space.


The lace we chose

a scatter of roses

breathed by the Goddess

Of All That is Possible;

each spray is caught

on the web of a spider.


On my mind and under

my fingers

the dream you dream of

the thing I manufacture.


If only we could see

all of the pieces of our lives

at once, fit

pattern to fabric,

lay it out to best advantage.


But we are only

ever given

one piece at a time.


I sit in the window,

the skirt’s creamy taffeta

whispering in my lap.



I want to sew the warm sun’s beams

into each seam,

lock them in

with small neat stitches

that will never come undone.


Slipping it on

she tells me

is like going into

a waterfall



Difficult to unpick lace

I tell her.

Hard to tell the thread

that holds the seams

from the thread

the lace is made of.


Such curses:

new beginnings

dogged hemming

folding frayed edges

in: daily devices.


Now the petticoat’s got me:

layer by layer,


the tulle is barely there:

form without colour, a shadow

I can’t catch.



it’s got you


like thistledown

all through the house.


It took me all morning to fashion

crescents the size of the moons

on your fingers from satin,

to stitch the loops

to the lace

where it’s meant to fasten;

three at each wrist,

four at the nape of the neck,

loops that slide perfectly over

the pearly ball buttons you’ve chosen,


as eyelids

over eyes.



I have given birth

to all of you.

I have fed you

and clothed you.


I have smeared my blood

almost imperceptibly

along the seams

of every one

of your garments.


I’m awake again;

the moon, maybe.

across the room

the now-finished dress

poised / on its petticoat—

hooked on its hanger

             into the moulding

             over the door


to be fleshed out

to etch your sunbrown skin

with roses

to rustle richly as you walk

towards him

certain of everything—

and nothing—

               as I am;

               eyes closing, opening,

shutting things out,

letting things in.





(Fantasyland Hotel, West Edmonton Mall, Alberta, Canada)


She always says she’d choose the Roman Room;

she remembers Ionic and Corinthian from school,

has always been artistic,

did a report once in grade 8, on Renoir.

This dark, rich maroon, these creamy pillars,

The Roman Bath—oval, marble—

the way she’d live, steeped in classic beauty

if she’d been born to the bucks,

hadn’t married the army.


She’d have put one of those—she forgets what they’re called—

by the pool though. Half horse and half man.

Or nothing.  This milky woman

endlessly pouring water from a golden spout

looks as if she has a back-ache.


Or they could have statues of people actually doing it.

You never saw that. It was always men and women separate—

except on that postcard she saved of a couple kissing.


She wonders about the round bed,

what they’re like to sleep in.

The pits to make, that’s all she knows.

But she figures they’re probably just swell

for what goes on in them most.


Last night, after she and Stan had—finished—

the two of them lay, heavy as marble;

a statue called “Couple, Sleeping.”

You could have put it in a park in Paris.

After years of people noticing

it might have become famous, like the Eiffel Tower.


Sometimes, when Stan is duty,

she dreams about an artist who’s painting a nude,

and she’s it, with Stan in the shadows, watching.


At one point, the artist, brush in hand, comes towards her,

says he needs to correct her pose. One arm should be a little higher.

He takes her wrist, turns it slightly, raises her arm a fraction, says

“Girl, the filtered light on your body’s incredibly beautiful!” 

With his sable brush—slowly, very carefully—

he paints her nipples a colour she can’t see,

the paint all oily and slippery and rich.

He traces the curve of her belly

with his fingers, lingers, does it again.

“You like that, don’t you?” he asks,

and she says yes, but doesn’t encourage him—

not with her husband watching.


His fingers move down,

but he’s looking at her face all the time

and she doesn’t lower her arms;

locked in space, as though

she is the painting he has almost finished,

she stands exactly as he’s posed her,

while his brush, its full round bristles,

slips inside her, paints delicate sunsets

just at the peak of perfection—

rainbows, double rainbows, and begins

a Diamond Jubilee Fireworks Exhibition

before she wakes, reaches out to Stan,

who’s at the barracks, still

hasn’t come home.




For Phyllis Webb


An expletive ball winging off a sudden bat

high into the linguistic sky,


the lunge into the stands, the triumphant

hands-high retrieval of the ball the fans


are deprived of.  The glottal stop

of a ball too fast to hit,


one we never see again, so far up does it go,

one that crashes into home plate just before we do,


the splitting of a bat, a vertical shattering;

splinters powerless in their separate shards


and wooden, dangerous.  All these things happen

and happen again in slow-motion recaptured;


a perfect pitch, runs completed, fouls,

batting average recorded somewhere in the dark;


these conventions joined, completed, lost;

the endless innings.


Repeatedly, we turn our sweaty caps peak backward,

adjust the angle, look unperturbed.






Roses and the scent of sundried grass

bring it all back:


the flowers banked on the coffin

in the church in Llandegai,

the warmth of that July day

stealing up the yewdark walk

penetrating the holy shadows

of the church itself

wafting over the upturned faces

of two reclining alabaster figures

near the font where we were christened,


we girls in dresses not serious enough for this;

gingham’d and dotted and small floral sprig’d

gazing like madonnas at the interlocking light

where Jesus shepherded his lambs

in gothic bliss,


the boys, jolted into quietude

picking scabs off battered knees,

the pain a small price to pay for being alive.

some of them had been on his side

in the field behind the school

when the arrow pierced his thigh.

some of them had been Normans,

and some of us were only playing house


but we knew it could be any one of us—

boxed in oak,

jaw locked

in the shape of a Celtic scream,

with the roses pressing, pressing,

and the black hole waiting

outside in the summer grass.





How many of us have you shepherded around London?

You—coming in on the train from Watford 

to meet one of us oft-lost-sheep in Rickmansworth, or on the platform 

at Finchley Road, Baker Street station maybe, or Marylebone—


you—excited and loud, sometimes embarrassingly loud,

eager to show off your detailed knowledge of the tube,

of London’s alleys and pubs, which churches were hit by Fritz’s bombs, 

asbestos, Greek, the bible—the Breeches one you were so proud of.


I remember the time we were strolling around

Henry Moore’s garden in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire 

when I asked you what you thought of his colossal bronzes

lolling about in the grass among the sheep.

“I too say Ba…aaa!” you answered. We joked  

about whether or not they were “wholly” successful.


The last time I saw you, we went to find where Van Gogh lived

in the eighteen-seventies….a house on Hackford Road in Camberwell.

En route, we stopped in the churchyard of St. John’s, Waterloo,

newspaper-wrapped fish and chips in hand. 

It was my irreverent idea to plunk ourselves there, 

and I was not convinced that you were completely comfortable 

eating high on the steps of a Greek Revival religious edifice,

but you were hungry and I was happy to be with you 

there in the centre of the universe.                                                                                                                                    


And now, Charlie, we’ve come to the end of an era. There won’t be 

any more paper packages from you in my mail box—

brochures of art exhibits you knew I’d like to have seen,

post cards of hand-tinted Edwardian ladies hiding naughty bits behind a fan,

a photo of the train station in the town with the longest name in Wales,

3-D violets on a cream-coloured card sent to a sweetheart in the first world war.


I shall miss those info-packed surprises. I’ll miss just knowing

that you are out there somewhere—on a train, walking through a tunnel,

ferreting around at the Saturday Collector’s Fair—searching, 

searching for things to send to friends.





“On Not Seeing Rocher Percé” appeared in Panorama Journal of Intelligent Travel.

“Keeping Time” was first seen in Storm Cycle, Best of 2014, KindofaHurricane Press.

“Raison d’Etre” was first published by OWF Poetry Publishers in The Garden.

An early version of “At This Ungodly Hour” first appeared in Celebrating Poets Over 70.

“From a Cafeteria Window” was first published in The Malahat Review.

“The Wedding Dress” was first published in Grain.

“The Diamond” first appeared in Canadian Literature.

“With the Roses Pressing, Pressing” was first seen in Anglo Welsh Review.

“The Dream of the Artistic Chambermaid” is in Mall (Rowan Books, Edmonton, AB)

Many of these poems  are in Shifting  (Ekstasis Editions, Victoria, BC)


4 - Afterword

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We are looking for other poets to feature in this series, and are open to submissions.  Please send one poem and a short bio to - info@poetrykit.org

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