Christine Swanberg

Christine Swanberg
4 Poems


Confessions During the Age of Corona
and National Poetry Month

Poetry is the mouth beneath the mask
   but poetry pales.
No metaphor compares to the courage
   of those
without the luxury of observation.
   No simile
matches the sheer guts of brave souls
   who get up
who knows what hours of the night or day?
   get up
go because they choose to sacrifice, serve,
   to risk, to heal.
Poetry is a balm but not a cure,
like a psalm or prayer,
   a lamentation,
the collective cry we do not allow
   others to see.
Poetry is the voice beneath the mask,
   behind the glass,
perhaps darkly as the scripture says,
   the voice
of elders for whom sacrifices are made.
   I confess
I don’t want anyone to die
   on my behalf.
I have lived the life I chose,
   solitary contrarian,
full of the adventures I dreamed of.
   I confess,
I live them over and over,
   sheltering in place,
overprotecting those I love,
   sending donations,
calling a few friends and family,
   preparing the garden,
buying hummingbird food curbside
   as if no one
was risking a life on my behalf.
   For my penance
I will take a walk in today’s sunshine,
beautiful places I have already been.


Once a Catholic

I still love the dark mystic beauty
of old Catholic churches,
the lingering smoke of incense,
harbor little ill will toward the faith
of my youth,
do not cotton to the phrase:
Recovering Catholic.
I am not Catholic
but one of the wayward faithful
who has chosen a sect with more music,
joy, and women pastors.
I remember the beginning of my seeking
that dark late autumn in the Heartland,
low hanging clouds like baskets
beginning to swell with hail,
that day at age thirteen
when a clear voice spoke to me in a dingy hall:
“God does not want you to follow blindly,”
extinguishing all I had learned in Catechism.
From that rubble,
I am grateful for all the seeking
and finding since then on a winding faith walk,
grateful for Catholic beginnings
that led me elsewhere.



When a whirlwind of endings threatens to uproot you,
and the windows rattle and hiss,
when doors are closing with a bang or a whisper,
and even appliances and utilities whimper or die,
you wonder whether your resilience
will see you through this miasma
which you hope and pray is temporary
and you search for the light
though the tunnel seems longer than usual,
and answers do not present themselves.
What can you do but try to calm
the dancing gods of anxiety
with their golden spears and torches?

You call upon the antidotes that saved you
in the past: prayers, affirmation, exercise,
the garden with its treasures, one true friend,
the trees with leaves riding the wind.
Perhaps it doesn’t help that fall
with its smoky winds like incense
is just around the corner, and soon
the bitter winds of winter will come biting.
What can you do but prepare the hearth,
a stack of books to veer the mind’s
compulsive need to probe and plan?
Does it help to know that this poet
understands exactly how you feel?


Dismantling the Garden

The crows are complaining.
Smoky October winds hint of winter
coming early this year. I
am a summer girl and loath
the end of the garden season
though I could find hope
in every perennial cut back, each
window box annual pulled out,
the burning of prairie grass
and the end of milkweed grown yellow
and mottled, the phlox brown and tinged.
It would be wrong to say
I doubt that the garden will bloom
next year. My seventy first
birthday lurks around the bend.
I am weary of loss.
Who will be around next year?
Today’s dying back of the garden,
though temporary, makes me wistful.
A solitary dove breaks my heart.
I am taking down the bird houses again,
remembering the fledglings
the frantic parents coaxing them
into this world, young and full of fervor.
The sheer guts of flying!
I am taking down the hummingbird feeders,
wishing the tiny travelers a safe journey.
I will myself out of melancholy
this cold October morning of first frost.
I am not ready to dismantle my life.


Christine Swanberg is the first official Poet Laureate of Rockford, IL. She has published many collections with various national presses, most recently WILD FRUITION: SONNETS, SPELLS, and OTHER INCANTATIONS from Puddin’head Press. About 600 of her poems appear in about 80 national journals, often as a regular. Her major awards include City of Rockford Community Impact Award (for teaching, writing, and mentoring), YWCA Leader Luncheon Award for the Arts, and many poetry awards. Now retired from teaching, she has created a sanctuary in her yard.