Scott Beal

The Swan, Migrating or Otherwise

Part of a page washed against an exposed mulberry root.
Moist and torn, a scrap
of story bitten and spit from a book. I took it

in my hands and found "The Swan,
migrating or otherwise, was always a magnet for musicians."
I liked the sound. I was just tidying up.

I didn't know what to do with it. I put the swan in my pocket
and strode to a mass of blue vinyl
that had been a house. That had been a gift.

An inflatable snow house
delivered by sleigh Christmas morning. (By sleigh. Yes. Shh.)
I'm not going to tell you the story

of Christmas, especially since Easter is coming and I don't
want you to think of the house
in those terms. It wouldn't hold air. Meant to stand

through a season of blizzards, it collapsed
before brushed by its first snowflake. Today at last
I wadded it into the trash.

But understand: even intact, no one could have lived in it.
If there were a strange woman
staying in my house, it would have been no use to her.

It was pretend. Too small
for a woman to sleep in and it didn't have a door.
There is a strange woman living

in my house. She is like the swan, migrating or otherwise.
I don't know what to do with her
or what book she was bitten from or how she blew

into my yard. She comes out of her room
to do the dishes or bike to the library. I don't know what she finds
there or why she canceled her application

for food assistance or why her sole currency appears to be
a sheaf of Barnes and Noble gift cards.
I find our sunflower butter depleted before its time,

and the whole grain bread and the milk.
I find the big spoons in the slot for the little spoons. Anyone
could make up these details,

anyone could invent this metaphorical woman
to explain the little mysteries
of their life, the lonely silences, the veiled threat

but the woman is not metaphor,
she's sleeping down the hall on an inflatable mattress
that holds air and is

the perfect size. Only the magnet for musicians
is wishful thinking. I don't
believe the book it's from is worth tracking down.

Sometimes words are no good
even when silence is no good. Sometimes the woman is gone
longer than I expect, and I wonder

if maybe a long lost aunt whisked her into the back of a sedan
destined for Newark. That's not what I
actually imagine, but sometimes the words (skids

and sirens) are no good.
My body contrives a shadow process of shock and regret
giving way to a wash of relief

it could never own up to, until the strange woman stalks
through the door, defeated
and defeating, and the space around us bends.


SCOTT BEAL’s first book of poems, Wait 'Til You Have Real Problems, was published by Dzanc Books in 2014. His poems have appeared in RattlePrairie SchoonerBeloit Poetry JournalMuzzleSouthern Indiana ReviewSonora Review, and the 2014 Pushcart Prize anthology. Beal teaches in the Sweetland Center for Writing at the University of Michigan and serves as Dzanc Writer-in-Residence at Ann Arbor Open School.