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December 01st 2009 print

Anna Buck

The Swing

There’s a place along the river where

cars pull in beside the alluvion

under pines that suck up rich minerals

so their trunks are four linked arms thick

and the first branch needs a cherry-picker

or a monkey to get up there.

Somebody did go out on a limb;

tied a tow rope for generations to swing

out over golden water, letting go when

there’s enough below to land in,

dipping with a delicious inner drop

back to bank if the flow has stopped.

Sometimes when I go by with the dogs

kids party under the pines, spill from sedans

older than they. Girls flushed with

alcopops, rings glinting from tongues

sit in tree root seats as the boys

leap out with Tarzan whoops.

Slender as wild bamboo these girls

innocent in their tipsy pleasure

swaying over to pat the dogs.

There is always one who takes the dare

swings higher than the boys; afterwards

they sit with hair slicked to scalps, talk

rises with sweet smoke and mosquito hum.

Told my grandsons about the swing

we waded the stream, dogs splashing ahead.

At first I thought the ribbons and cellophane

catching the sun were KFC debris; chips

and chicken bones sprout from takeaway

seeds—once I found a scattered settee,

split cushions spread through the weeds.

Mounded against the trunk fake flowers

under a print-out photograph smudged

with last night’s condensation, as though

from crying; eyes that knew enough at sixteen

not to want to stay alive. The rope was gone—

untied and removed, she was the last high flyer.

One of the pines has had its bark hacked out

almost in a ring, angry, red cuts

that just fail in their attempt to kill the tree

from which she swung. As the dry year

draws on and the flow in the river dwindles

the roots suck deep and the wind

soughs through the needles.