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new poem by todd swift

Ballad of the Non-payment

What we see is burning planes
the compost of sad old refrains
no song collects human remains.

A poem is what is tossed aside
by any reader who aims to glide
above rhyme for a novel ride;

I have some wisdom left apart
for my children never came to start
the acting father in me, so smart

I somehow learned to uncreate
the brood I thought would inundate
our gardens with their fortunate

water pistols aimed at trees;
I've some words to give freely;
these are words like shooting sprees:

there is no God but the god you leave;
there is no loss but that you grieve;
and it is better to love than live;

though living is what love requires;
the world dampens love’s true fires;
for truth and love are not the spires

on which our global good is built;
we rise to worship all that’s gilt;
we mourn fewer than get killed;

if I could warn I’d remove all doubt:
it is better not to write a lot;
and if you do, try not to shout;

they can hear you even though
you never speak above a slow
mourning whimper, asking how

they know you are so beautiful
and yet they’ve had their fill
before they’ve had any at all.

It isn’t lasting but it is the fate
to arrive too early, stay too late
and lean against a burning gate

that soon, low ash, will topple you
for being no more than evening dew;
the night has little else to do

with poems, poets, those who think
their meanings and language sink
ships or move the world to a brink;

the day has even less time for us;
we, to creation, being most useless;
our dry course, and longing curse.

Be a doctor, lawyer, good with sums;
bang pots, pans and goat-skin drums;
garden with a prudent thumb;

no green accrues, no gold arrives,
by writing into being what never lives;
the poet dies each time she gives.

A poet dies because she pays a tax
for which no ruler has ever asked;
she tithes and tithes away the mask

until her body, mind and spirit lie
upon a floor of spilled grain and flies;
but threshes those who aspire to try

enumerating stars, molecules, the ant
across the lintel or the pouring sand;
to count out the illegible plan

nature’s claws, mad Zeus’s design;
refrain, resign, diplomatically decline;
the word’s unwanted in the anodyne.

Knock back a quick one, salute the bar;
where you are going is not that far;
you’ll soon close shut the one true door.

poem by Todd Swift
July 22, 2014; revised July 26.
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