Mute Swan

By Fleda Brown

Featured Art: Swan by Mary Altha Nims

I am full of irritation this morning
which makes folding the fitted sheet
a disaster, wrinkles smashed inside.
Down at the dock, the swan hissed
at me and I thought, good for you,
swan, what business do we have
in your life, anyway, making up myths
in which you rape, or die?
Beautiful things often hiss if you get
too close. Or if you try to neaten them up
like clothes. A swan’s neck is tough
enough to twist you into knots.
Beauty, I don’t know how to feed it
without getting bitten.

Swan’s wings are heavy enough to kill you.
Eleven swans at once have traveled our lake
in perfect synchrony in the boat wakes,
their heads so far from the wild bucking,
they seem to have forgotten their bodies.
Terrible flowerings, they are going
somewhere else, to do what they do.

A male swan is a cob, the female a pen.
Who thought those up? They make a kind
of sense, though, the same kind of sense
that turns a swan’s neck plus its reflection
into an ice-hook.

If a challenger comes too near the nest
the cob climbs on him and shoves
his head down until he drowns. Not shoves.
He rests his beak quietly, relentlessly
on the neck as if it were the challenger’s
decision to bow under, and he were
helping him stay there. His big body
covers the other, except for one wingtip.
There’s a leisurely quality, like love.

When swans mate, their heads and necks
form a perfect valentine. Or, they intertwine
necks. Last night I wanted to watch
the movie unencumbered by your hand
on my breast. I was touchy. You were all
winding; I, all hiss.

Fleda Brown’s tenth collection of poems, Flying Through a Hole in the Storm, (2021) won the Hollis Summers Prize from Ohio University Press. Earlier poems can be found in The Woods Are On Fire: New & Selected Poems, University of Nebraska poetry series, 2017. Her new memoir, Mortality, with Friends will be out from Wayne State University Press Fall 2021. She is professor emerita at the University of Delaware and was poet laureate of Delaware from 2001-07.

Originally published in NOR 18: Fall 2015

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