BEN SWIMM

Church on State Route 11

No one would ever build a place
like this today. They don’t know how,
or won’t agree to pay for solid granite walls.

 

And who alive could know the purpose
of a church so small out here alone,
still praying for the cars that hurry past?

 

The roof is slumped, having carried
through the years its share of moral weight.
Each piece of slate’s descent exposes rafters

 

to the ruin of the sun and rain.
Being swallowed by the brushy yard,
its studded oaken doors hang open for the flocks

of leaves and vines  to settle
on the pews. But where the preacher
stood to break the bread, there glistens
 
shards of broken glass instead, and hanging
on the cross a pair of swallows
built their nest, where lines for earth and heaven

 

meet. A pulpit for the daily verse
and sermon to be warbled from, stuck
with holy clumps of mud and sticks and spit.

They Call Me the Mayor of Rockville

 

A cow’s hide is an ambiguous boundary:

Organ then tissue giving way to skin covered

in hairs probing ever outward; the living

not so easily encased. For example, the breath 

escapes. The milk, the urine, the excrement.

 

But when it dies, the skin comes to me,

scraped of heart and hair and steak.

I turn it back against itself, making what

was live and soft stronger, fixed, resistant.

 

Leather resisting oil and muck as glove,

boots shutting out the restless cold,

an explicit layer between asphalt

and a biker’s chest, a belt dividing

our bodies’ hemispheres.

 

An intricate papoose I make for every child

born in this northern hamlet, against

the youths’ impulse to leave. The last

one made in nineteen ninety seven.

Ben Swimm grew up in Madison, WI. After graduating from Williams College, he has worked at educational farms in Vermont, Alaska, and New York. He currently lives in Canton, NY, and works at St. Lawrence University as their Homesteader-in-Residence.