Introduction to Taryn Schwilling’s Poetry by Dan Beachy-Quick

I’ve now known Taryn Schwilling’s poems for many years, poems whose music of both ear and eye made me feel I was, in reading them, on the cusp of understanding some necessity in beauty I hadn’t been able to grasp before. Of course, beauty is of tremulous, perhaps evanescent, necessity—to encounter the sense of it in a poem is also to feel its complications, even its loss. Part of Schwilling’s great giftedness is the grace with which she accepts the agonized conditions of lyric investigation: that inability, pure paradox, to know if one has in hand what one most wants to hold, or if the same is lost entire.


The poems in these pages open up in her work new territory; perhaps it’s truer to say that new territory has opened for her these poems. Schwilling has travelled into a bourn I might call “lyric witness.” I mean that little phrase not as a description, but as some effort to show what complexity of mind and heart and eye these poems contain within themselves. If “witness” as such demands a location apart from what one sees, then these poems fail. But if by “lyric witness” we might encroach into other territory—not objective accuracy, but a finely excessive initiation into a world that, once seen, we not only enter, but in a deeper crisis, find it is what enters us. This double-motion—a step into so as to be entered oneself—finds a world that unfolds simultaneously within one’s own life even as it is all that exists outside the self’s small confines, and the true bewilderment is in recording how the interior re-echoes the external. Like few others I know, Taryn Schwilling’s poems invite us into this difficult, necessary work—poems that do not demand to be read so much as insist that reading is the beginning of actual experience.


Still Life

‘To keep you is no benefit—to destroy you no loss’
—Khmer Rouge mantra

The fever reigns in the forest like self-
sufficiency             I name it
The Savage’s Arrow             herself she names
names that sound like everyone else

vacant city             tire bound in flame
sent for blood-cover she becomes a month-
long number

a snapshot on the wall for my tourist’s glass eye

the terror climax             flip of an electric switch
on a child’s back sounds like

my camera’s click             turn of a screw
or dull thrust of the axe handle
I used to have a curfew             I used to
carry automatic weapons in the street

what do I know of war             other than to say I’m afraid

wet liver from a living man             for luck I used to

in the bone-white hot of day the one called doctor bleeds
her like the rubber trees in the orchard
to see death ride up             to save a bullet
slow as nail-pry             he leans in

close to the crude bob of her hair

this isn’t about the victims             she writes
every story he asks             banal as the thud of fruit
fallen             at first she believed
herself             fatal mouth denied
pantheon             the ordinary tree against which

she’ll worship no god             worship this man who will
end you             for whom does she create

the forgiveness museum             the empty city

I go quiet             the dark tourist the one
room between two pools of water stood

bored as stories torn open             abrupt gesture
I’m the man who acted on her             the place that forgot
her name             I gave her a number and felt sorry
the zero year is final in her             mind

an omen of the white alligator             a swift
shift of the river’s current             the echo of


Modern Progress

The palace floor is made of dirt
here the rats smile from corners
as they cool their bellies         they speak

in my dreams         the rats are afraid

are roasted     served in soups     the rats
wear masks to avoid detection
they celebrate the death
of loved ones by walking about

the palace in daylight   I’m certain
I’m being followed   my wine drank
while I sleep

trailed by a quiet music

I spend hours glancing
backward   a flower on the path
a feather stood upright

I set fires along the path
to keep them coming



The gate guard sleeps
I arouse him
in his hammock
to offer the same
weak thanks nightly

the city empties
I follow a living line
in pretend of belonging
I crane my neck toward

agreement of the dead godking’s
face in the moon’s fat

I toss rice in the province
to the unseen things

I walk away
from every passing Lexus

I cannot

I go blank in vicious worship
& feed the dead or nearso
for fifteen days the gate opens

unfastening a dark or nervous place
just the sixth of many
rats under a wheel
this bird-less morning I offer
every look I have     sickly-

flashing mirage of fish
sat too long in the sun

listen we circle three times & wait
I pay a monk to spray me with water

I can’t see for the sun
so I return to begin


Pleasure Scene

At the river-margin
grew few plants

whose flowers hung not
beyond my reach     all

the imperfections
hidden by tree-row

as soft as they were
wild with shaggy light

this place season-less
but for wet heat

every branch bent under
the bird pageantry


Let Me Think The Things

I should, if my voice were softer
than the violent night—
if I’d not returned. I won’t again.

My dream enemies find me.
It was I who caused them
to my bed, my Babylonian night-

life marks me. So what
if the world has been unkind.

Death is the final embarrassment.

I’ll film the film myself.
Look at me—I’m making the ugly
beautiful again. If I keep my motion
no one will have the chance to love
me. I wander on. My impulses harden. My
thighs ache for the old economy.

I look to live where the fruit stays strange.

To and fro. There are two types
of trauma. My science is pure.

I am rarely frightened by the dog’s chase.

Strangers circle my wagon—I foresee
this time night breaks and day comes on.
I place the stones on my eyes and wait.
Do you want proof or eloquence? Material
slur. My sight does nothing but sadden me.
The color behind my eyes is true. Red and bone.


Other Uncomfortable Companions

As the birds do they close
the day with the sun as the birds
close     for the glow-
worms thick & luminous     as day
or the sun     so as to be
able to read by them   for the glow
do they close //

all the wax African     carried to light
church candles     led by the honey-
guide so that he may

in finding be gifted

a crocodile will be
made a pet                     the alligator here
is a real land-shark         who goes about
devouring the natives       as he please //

I’ve even seen a marabou
tamed at the tableside
where his master offered him
a cat he swallowed whole /

of monkeys I have nothing
good to say //

a great gray beast
they call the river-horse

your lady reminds me /

with a flush of her cheek
pleasure shot over her
but it rains & like a puppy
she’s shown the most attention

for the gray horse
is always born black