Joan Swift



When the doctor holds my upper arm in his two hands,
he bows his head and listens as if he were waiting to hear
the song of a rare endemic bird no one has seen for centuries.
I start to speak, but he shakes his head, does not loosen his grip
on my arm, turns his fingers around the curve
of my skin and listens again.
I am afraid to clear my throat. My toes stay still.
He must hear my heart where it beats
but he is listening to the sound of bones
the way NASA turns its telescopes far over our heads on Mauna Kea
and hears the universe move.

Rain falls so hard on the roof, I think it might break through.
Imagine all those luminous drops that had been the backbone
of a cloud shattered and lying above the orthopedic surgeon’s head
and mine. Soon a puddle, then a trickle into the Wailuku River.
This will mend well, he says, shows me two x-rays.
In the waiting room is a large salt water tank. A zebra moray eel
folds in one corner its brown and white stripes.
I think how it must have no bones at all
or bones so light this eel can wind
around its heaven all night when everyone has left
and dream the dream of breaking into the world.


“Listening to my Bones” is reprinted from The Southern Review.


Joan Swift has published four full-length books of poems, the two most recent both winners of the Washington State Governors Award.  Her most recent poetry collection is the chapbook Snow on A Crocus, Formalities of a Neonaticide, 2010.  Swift’s poems have appeared in The Yale Review, Poetry, The Atlantic, Ploughshares, Puerto del Sol, DoubleTake, The Iowa Review, The Southern Review and dozens of others.  Among the awards she has been granted are three National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, an Ingram Merrill writing award, a grant from the Washington State Arts Commission, and a  Pushcart Prize.  After graduating from Duke, she earned an M.A. at the University ofWashington where she was a student in Theodore Roethke’s last class. She lives and writes in Edmonds,Washington.