Christine Swint’s poems have appeared in Calyx, Birmingham Poetry Review, Slant, a Journal of Poetry, Tampa Review, Heron Tree, Ekphrasis, and others. Her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best New Poets, and she has won first place prizes from the Georgia Poetry Society and Agnes Scott College. Her first collection, Swimming This, was published in 2015 by FutureCycle Press. She teaches first-year composition at a metro-Atlanta university and writes about poetry, art, hiking, and yoga at Balanced on the Edge, https://balancedonedge.blog
Last week I challenged myself to come up with ten first lines of a sonnet, which traditionally contains fourteen lines of ten syllables and five beats each.
And so I did do a bit of writing this week– I made this challenge public to nudge myself and maybe others to stop thinking about writing or not writing and to simply write. My inner Yoda prodded me to get my creative mind back in gear.
Not all of the lines below contain ten syllables, and probably not even one of them is iambic pentameter, but if anyone would like to use one of these to write their own poem, I leave it to you to revise and make it suit your purposes.
For more inspiration, as well as a reminder that you can forget prosody and meter, I suggest you check out “Notes on Walking Poetry” by Dave Bonta, who says, “To hell with the metrical foot. Free your verse and your mind will follow… at a walker’s pace.”
Ten Eleven First Lines
Some of these are found texts that I pieced together, others come from old diary entries.
O love! O chaos! O wind in the trees!
The instability of honey bees
I snatched a snippet of joy on the fly
A harsh light seeking some pallid shape
I opened my eyes to a blur of leaves
A ghost in the barely breathing silence
Walking through a cloud–droplets beaded my black wool
Today, I painted a tropical bird
I cried in the parking lot, my friend as witness
A family of deer stepped along a creek bed
Thunder shook the rain loose and then it cleared
If you decide to use one of these lines above, please let me know! Feel free to share in the comments section, or leave one of your own lines here and we can write a collaborative poem. If you drop me a line, I’ll respond in kind.
Cooler air has finally come to Georgia, and I’m starting to feel a desire to return to my creative practices, mainly poetry writing and drawing.
Before sitting down to write, I clean house, walk my dog, work in my garden, or go for a swim. By the time I’ve burned off my nervous energy, I’m too tired to write (or so I tell myself).
In the morning I like to read for an hour, but usually it’s newspapers and magazines. Something’s got to change. As William Carlos Williams says in Asphodel that Greeny Flower,
It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.
My friend, poet and writer JC Reilly, writes of her struggles with not writing. As she states in her post at Poeta Venum, writing or not writing is an existential matter to her. Writing is her life.
She’s a brilliant poet— I recommend her fascinating book-length fantasy, What Magick May Not Alter for exploring her most recent work.
I pray the universe, the Muses, and all the gods and goddesses shower her with lines of poesy and delicious words and images to inspire her.
For myself, on one hand, I feel Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near, but on the other, I’m exhausted. I could use a few weeks in a cottage at the beach. A state park cabin near the ocean is all I need.
Since I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, I’m going to give myself an assignment to come up with ten different first lines of a sonnet.
If one of the ten lines speaks to me, I’ll go ahead and write a complete sonnet with it. If you want to play along, write your own first lines! I’ll share what I come up with in a few days.
Each line will be roughly ten syllables with five beats, but the lines will not necessarily go together. I’m hoping to trick my ego into not “trying” to make sense of it, at least not in the beginning.
Ayurvedic medicine extols the benefits of absorbing the prana of open bodies of water. Not that I needed a nudge to swim and soak in mineral hot springs!
My husband and I have been going to Colorado for their hot springs for ten years now, although we missed going these last three year because of Covid.
There’s a lap pool filled with mineral water in the town we visited, and we walked there every day from the rental apartment. We swam laps and soaked in the “heart spring,” the source of the different pools that comes directly from the earth at 105 degrees.
The springs were once the traditional lands of the Ute Indians, who used to winter there. They understood very well the benefits of the spring water. Knowing they were forced from their land is present for me, and I often think of how different our world would be if the White settlers had tried to learn from the people who were there before them.
We also visited another hot springs that’s higher in the Rockies than the pools in town. It’s a rustic place situated at about 7,000 feet in a dip of the mountain chain on a dirt road.
The owners have built pools of different temperatures with rocks and boulders so that the cold river water can blend with the steaming hot springs that bubbles from the earth at 124 degrees.
My favorite way of experiencing the springs was to swim for 15 minutes in the cold water, which felt like it was maybe 65 or 70 degrees (people were saying it was 60 degrees, but I don’t think I’d have been able to swim that long in such cold water). After my cold water dip, I’d go to the 106 degree water and soak up to my neck like a Japanese snow monkey.
But the most healing practice I experienced there was Watsu massage. Watsu therapy combines the pressure point massage of Japanese shiatsu with submersion in 95 degree water. The water, close to body temperature, feels like bathing in silky air.
My therapist was a young woman who had studied Watsu in Hawaii. She explained her process while we were sitting in the lovely, open-air private pool surrounded with a stone wall. She worked with me in the beginning to practice blowing bubbles out my mouth while using a nose plug.
She explained that water represented the element of emotions, and asked me if I had any traumas or emotional upheavals I wanted to express, and as I told her the story of my recent depression, she tapped my forehead, ribs, and sternum. She then asked me to repeat a healing affirmation based on the story I told her.
Afterwards, she put floats on my legs and worked with me while holding me in her arms, face up. She created a powerful feeling of trust in me that allowed me to close my eyes and completely let go of any holding patterns in my body. Instructing me me to breathe through my heart space, she moved my body like a frayed rope through the warm water.
When I was completely loose and relaxed, we started the submersion part. She intuited how long she could keep me underwater without my needing to struggle. The feeling of retaining the breath and then taking in big gulps of fresh air through my mouth made me feel like a newborn.
I’m so grateful to Nechole for her healing touch and her wise words. Watsu helped me forget about my thinking self for an hour.
When I went back for a second session she asked me if I had learned anything from our first time in the water, and I said, “Well, I wanted to write about it, but I just didn’t have the energy.”
She asked me if I had seen any spiders recently, and I said, yes, I had found one in the bathtub. She said that writing is the medicine of spiders because they spin webs, and that maybe I should heed the sign. She also told me about Aunt Ninny, the nagging voice inside all of us that holds us back from creating or expressing ourselves.
I saw a spider yesterday on my bed, and I wrapped it in tissue and let it go in the bushes. Aunt Ninny is having her iced tea on the front porch, and I’m on the back porch, writing a wee bit, making my way back to wholeness.
Even though my house is surrounded by trees, it’s still in the suburbs. For some reason, folks around here feel the need to use gas-powered blowers to clear their driveways, which often prevents me from enjoying the morning on my back porch.
Mornings are hot and humid in metro Atlanta. I can tolerate the heat until about ten o’clock, but after that, it’s uncomfortable unless you remain absolutely still and are under a ceiling fan.
Just two hours north, however, the temperature drops a good ten degrees. My sisters and I sat on a cabin porch in rocking chairs and observed woodpeckers, tree climbers, black-eyed Susans and blossoming rhododendrons. For much of the time, I was in a meditative state of rest, rocking and breathing in the sweet air.
There’s a two-mile path around the lake that my lovely teenage niece, my sisters, and I walked a few times.
My youngest sister, a journalist and nature lover, was keen to find mushrooms, and she did! She spied a handful of bright, saffron-colored chanterelles, although she gave me a little fright the way she scrambled down a hillside to photograph them.
She pointed out a kingfisher, a pileated woodpecker, and a score of other plants.
My middle sister is a mystic, an adept meditation practitioner in the tradition of Parmahansa Yogananda, an artist, and a raw food enthusiast. She prepared a delicious vegan lunch and dinner for me every day we were there, a true gift for me as I recover from depression.
My mom and her husband traveled from their home about thirty minutes away, and they hiked with us to Ana Ruby Falls. My mother is about to turn 83, and she set the pace for us up the mountain. She’s in better hiking shape than I am!
The cool air from the falls, under a canopy of poplars, hickory, oaks, and rhododendron, was a healing balm. My sisters and I realized after being there that three days was not enough time.
The bee balm I planted this past April is in full bloom, and the bees are take greedy delight in it. The flowers are right next to a stone retaining wall, and when it’s shady, I love to sit there and watch the multitudes gyrating among the blossoms. It’s meditative and restorative as outside time suspends and I enter the bees’ eternal present.
There have been cataclysmic disruptions in the U.S. that have shaken many of us, if not most of us, to our core. It’s been hard to grapple with the demise of women’s reproductive and bodily rights as I also am healing from depression.
One of my sisters, a journalist, went to observe a protest in Atlanta, but I do not have energy to participate in these demonstrations. I’ve got to focus on restoring my nervous system, and gardening is one way I’ve been able to do that.
My backyard is completely wooded with no grass, just oak and hickory saplings trying to reach through the canopy of eighty-year old tulip poplars.
We lost a giant post oak in our front yard in a lightning storm about twelve years ago, which opened up a small patch of sunlight, and there I’ve cultivated a variety of plants, all perennials.
There are three blueberry bushes that yield a fair amount of fruit, which I leave for the birds. The cardinals, jays, and wrens feast among the branches in June.
I planted a brown turkey fig a few years ago that still doesn’t produce much fruit, but I do love looking at the sunlight filtering through its broad, fat leaves.
Yesterday it was a bit cooler in the morning than it has been, so I spent a few hours pulling up my nemesis, an invasive species called chamber bitter. If you see a patch of this weed, yank it up immediately! It’s also called gripe weed, a another good name for my garden nemesis.
Chamber bitter is almost impossible to control without herbicide, and I have used a tiny bit of a homemade concoction of salt, soap, and vinegar on a few spots. Mostly, though, I pull the weeds up by the roots, venting my rage and grief as I go.
I’m including this poem below to show how gardening and time outdoors works its way into my poems. My life is fairly boring if watched from the outside––it’s the small observations that accumulate and fuse with a certain feeling that end up becoming poems.
Eve Clears Her Garden
Spring forced no life from the apple tree so we took it down, dragging crown and trunk to the yard for the boys to chop into logs. Then the soil–taproots thick as wrists, severed with pickax and machete, rocks and clay loosened with tines of hoe and pitchfork. Leaves, sheaves of them bleaching under this year’s brown ones, peeled away. Worms slid through sleek mud as blade tips carved nearby. From a tide of mulch, pale as a sprig of thyme, a snake flashed its stripes like a dart, and I dropped the spade.
There is flawless blue where the tree once reached. Verbena and asters now pink the hill instead of old geometries, those leafless branches. A sphinx moth, some kind of flying serpent, takes wary sips from milkweed, then phlox, then flies in my direction, as if to reach the pith of me and my temptation. The urge is to coax seedlings into vines, to answer the call of minstrel goldfinch, to open my heart’s hive and free the bees that seem to buzz between each breath, each rib.
(Republished here from my poetry collection, Swimming This, with FutureCycle Press, 2015)
Long ago, in the storm rocked Cantabrian Sea, My friends and I heeded some impulse to strip And plunge below the jagged breakers. Blood pounding in my ears the only sound As waves swirled above like illuminated thunderheads. Later, we sat on pockmarked boulders at dusk, An electric charge in the air. Hushed breath, chests rising And falling as though joined by an invisible current, The shared knowledge of what we had risked. Today, I enter the pebbled shallows of a man-made lake. My footsteps tear through the reflection of pine trees, Warp their curve upwards with hill’s rise, their sun-bright Branches greening the water’s mirrored darkness.
Today I’m thinking about youth and the vitality I once had. When I wrote this poem this past spring, I was feeling content with the peace and calm I had arrived at.
But as I’m going through another depression of the agitated variety, my nerves completely shot, I marvel at how I used to thrill at riding wooden roller coasters or swimming in rough water.
Yesterday I took the second Covid booster, which hasn’t seemed to cause me any great distress, but the new medication I’m taking for anxiety has tired me as my body adjusts. I’m still hoping the anxiety will ebb, but so far, after ten days, I’ve only experienced minor improvements.
Guided meditations and lap swimming have helped ease some of the pain. Distractions like walking my dog or gardening when the heat is not too unbearable also help. Remembering that all things change and are changing every moment is a consolation, too.
Diary entry, Madrid, International Pride Weekend, 2017
Tourist lunch at three o’clock on the terrace, but I’m not alone—a Russian to my right speaks to me in Spanish–Rusia es un infierno, allá a no se puede ser gay. He tells me of sinister ears that listen for echoes of forbidden love, their switchblades ready to shiv a body. But all of this is far away. Today, we pilgrims dine on scallops in their shells, watercress salad, and peach gazpacho as the sky parades across the Gran Vía, an awning of cobalt blue over buildings white as wedding cake, cornices creamy as flan. Love’s on all the billboards and gold armored Super Woman straddles the bus stop, so much iridescence, I forget my fractured foot. We mambo through rainbows laced along the Retiro and two-step into the Garden of Earthly Delights, where swallows burst through pink eggshells and Adam plops down as though stupefied on the grass. God, dressed in red velvet robes, stares at us as he holds Eve’s wrist and takes her pulse. We shed our clothes— drag queens expose their statuesque torsos, and I reveal my pale potbelly, my breasts like empty soup bowls. Here, shame has drifted out to sea in a soap bubble. Naked together, we are whippoorwills circling fountains frothing with limonada, sangría, tinto de verano. We are owls with pineapples on our heads, symbolizing nothing, fizzing with delight.
In honor of Pride Month, I’m posting this poem that I wrote a few years ago after returning from my second camino in Spain.
The poem is based on real life events in Madrid, and also the painting by Hieronymus Bosch, a tryptic that encompasses heaven, hell, and earthly paradise.
If I can ever get myself to focus and complete this project, the plan is to place this poem at the end of my manuscript about the camino. It’s shaping up to be a nice size for a chapbook, about 28 pages of poems written in the epistolary style and consisting of letters, messages, notes, and diary entries.
I love the poems in this manuscript, and I really need to finish the project and bring it to fruition. It’s more fun to keep making new poems, but it’s not fair to the work to keep it squirreled away in drawers and on my laptop.
I hope you like this poem. It’s central message is to live with delight and for shame to “drift out to sea in a soap bubble.”
Be proud of your way of loving. No one can tell you how or who to love. And know that if you’re reading this poem and identify as LGBTQIA, which is probably most of the entire world, I am sending you love through this poem!
Look here, the tree says. There is a path, a road Winding toward a cabin Deep in a shadowy forest. Finding the glowing pine Is not enough. I need to travel Down the winding road To the decrepit cabin Full of cobwebs, broken boards. Even deeper, I need to go, Below the foundation, Down to the level of packed dirt, Down to the damp, dark place Where memories sleep in fits, Pushing like roots in the soil.
I’ve kept a log of my dreams for years and years, ever since I was a teenager, but lately my nightly visions have slipped away from my conscious mind.
As is my custom, I keep a notebook next to my bed where each night I write, “I want to remember my dreams tonight,” or something to that effect.
If no dream is in my mind when I wake, I write, “No dream tonight.” I have a long list of many nights in a row with not even a fragment to hold.
I’m wondering if my inner dream maker is feeling neglected, because I have had several vivid images come to me in dream form during the last year, but I haven’t really paid them any mind.
So now I’m breathing life into the dreams (at least I hope), by drawing and writing about them. This particular dream came to me in the winter, before my mother-in-law died.
I have a recurring image that includes this cabin in the above drawing, and often this place is *Katherine’s cottage* in the dream.
In life, every summer we used to go to her house in the countryside of West Stockbridge, Mass. It was tucked into a sort of tree-lined grotto at the end of a circular gravel drive, a short distance away from a brook.
But this dream cabin always appears as a secret place my husband and I had forgotten about. It sometimes shows up as *Katherine’s first cottage* where she has been living far away in the deep forest, like a fairytale witch.
I don’t like to over analyze my dreams, but it does give me a sense of wholeness when I invite the dream images into my art. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide what the cabin would mean if it were your dream, or the tree, as well.
After the windstorms, we wake to snowslides of petals on the grass, First loss of the season, these lung-soft ghosts.
Fire-striped tulips affront our sorrow, waving their wild colors as we pass. After the storms, we awaken
to what we should have known, that the first kiss could also be the last. Memories linger like soft little ghosts.
A flotilla of pollen cloaks the lakeshore, concealing the water glass surface– opaque in the storm’s wake.
We used to fear a certain swimming-hole, so dark, where the children might slip from our grasp. Time has turned our fears into mean little ghosts
that drag us down like an undertow, our breath heavy in the laden air. After each rainstorm we’re awake to a springtide of loss, these sallow ghosts
This poem is a variation on a villanelle I started a few years ago during April and that I recently revised a bit.
Dark pools of water show up frequently in my dreams, and they show up in my poems, as well.
Sometimes I see animals coming up out of the water such as alligators. In general, when I see dark, murky waters in my dreams, I think I’m dealing with the unconscious mind, memories I might be afraid to look at.
But if I do manage to sit with the fears during the dream, the water sometimes will become clear and the creatures inhabiting the dreamscape become colorful and whimsical, not at all scary and creepy.
My poem doesn’t get past the fears as the speaker contemplates loss of petals, the memories in the dark pools of water, and in the background, the loss of so many lives to covid.
I wrote this poem in 2019 after the Georgia State Assembly passed a law that would criminalize all abortions after a so-called fetal heartbeat was detected in an ultrasound.
Camatkarasana, roughly translated as Wild Thing, is a sort of one armed backbend that one of my yoga teacher enjoys guiding us toward.
She has a unique way of describing what is going on inside the body and how to harness that energy toward achieving greater strength in the pose. It’s a difficult pose to achieve and requires strength, flexibility, and confidence, but once you do achieve the pose, the body becomes flooded with energy.
My heart is very heavy with sadness for women now that the leaked draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade has been published. We ARE wild things, strong and capable of determining what happens to our own bodies. I’m filled with fury that forces in our society want to take this right away from us.
In his book about the Buddhist concept of impermanence, the late Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story about how his mother was pregnant before him but lost that pregnancy. He asks, “Am I that same baby, or am I someone different?”
In keeping with the Buddhist concept of impermanence, he reasons that he is the same but also different, just like a bulb that blossoms, and then withers, and then blossoms again the following year.
Thich Nhaht Hanh’s teachings are not so different from the story of a Chicago abortion rights organizer and NGO administrator who told her twin seven-year-old boys that she had had an abortion before being pregnant with them. They interpreted the story in their own way by saying, ”Mommy was pregnant before us and then she made herself unpregnant so that we could be born.”
The activist’s words resonated with me, as she explained that the abortion she had when she was not ready to have a child made it possible for her to give birth to her twin sons. Is it really anyone else’s business what choices she needed to make? I’m beyond exhausted that we are still having to explain ourselves to men and to justify the decisions we make for our own physical and mental wellbeing.
My heart is heavy that I live in a society that does not value women in equal measure as it does men. I’m a poet, not an activist, and my nervous system is not prepared right now to take to the streets. But I will support everyone who does!