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Wally Swist



Discovering What to Say

        for Father Gabriel Rochelle


You write informing me

that you have traced your German surname

back to 1100 in Blaubeuren

and to two brothers who lived auf die riede,


or “by the swamp (reeds).”

How much like you

to provide the exegesis and the argument

at once, igniting my memory


of our once-a-week Monday talks

in your book-lined study facing

High Street, the tops of the heads

of passersby moving to and from


classes at the university,

when sometimes the very air itself

would fill with the intensity

of our conversations, the books


I would bring, the authors I would

introduce from my hours working

in the bookstore, and you sharing

the depth of your knowledge


and your active wisdom such as

how people forty thousand years ago

fashioned bone pipes in the caves

near Blaubeuren, how these pipes


were both discovered and their images

reproduced in paintings on the walls,

how you facilitate my hearing

the melodies of their playing


not because they have nothing to say

but exactly because you and I

will always discover what to say

and what is most specific to express


like the fires of an idea

that can even light up the walls

of a cave, just like that evening

I dropped off a Christmas gift


to you of a copy of David Jones’

In Parenthesis, his book-length

poem of fighting in the trenches

in World War I, the snow falling


as slowly as in a paperweight,

and you meeting me at the front door,

the hallway lit behind you, intimating

the length of the decades we would


remain in contact and in friendship,

wherein there have been silences

that are always filled again with words

we needed to say and said them


with clarity, not unlike the residents

of caves who sat beside the flames

of their hearth and blew into

their pipes of bone by discovering


what they had to say, as we have been

trying to leave a trace of the sacred,

so anyone could clearly see it

and begin to listen to it fill the air.




Devorah Baum

Rebecca Priestley

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