Barn Swallows

(April 26, 1986, 1:23 A.M.)
The barn swallows
cry like old men.
Many years ago
the sickness bloomed.
A beautiful red rose
glowed in the dark
and sent a plume
into the sky.
You could hold it in your hands.
You could hear it murmur.
Till inside you the spark
of madness broke,
set your bones ablaze.
There is a distance
here that approaches,
a far off intimacy
awakens at the cries
of barn swallows,
shrill, breaking the earth,
digging up old bones
and suddenly inside the dark,
a terrible hurt,
a trembling hand
turns a doorknob,
lifts a window
made of starlight.
Then suddenly closes
around us.
And now the flame
burns in our heads.
You can see all those
who suffered here,
those who died
for what?
The mutations are many.
The blind barn swallows
mourn their ancestors.
Experiment and explosion—
morality and corrosion,
the earth's erosion.
Nuclear power reactors
and human factors.
Blight, blight.
Good night.
All shall know fright.
Children are not fuel,
People are not fuel.
The poisoned red throats
of barn swallows
call queerly at dusk,
as though nothing had taken place.
The land smolders covered in lead,
sand, clay, and metal.
Here wilderness, the dead forest,
where men resemble wild boar,
elk, deer, bison, lynx, and wolves
suffer birth defects.
We are contaminated
by nuclear disasters,
by failed governments,
by blind vagrant science,
by the careless,
clumsy thoughts
of little men.
The barn swallows
cry like old men.
The sky puts on its cloak.
A tattered bonnet made of black lace.
Many years ago the terror broke.
The blight and madness,
knowledge and lies
of an inhumane race,
now barn swallows call queerly at dusk,
as though nothing had taken place.


Ernest Slyman was born in Appalachia—Elizabethton, Tennessee. He attended East Tennessee State University. He has been widely published in The Laurel Review, The Lyric, Light: A Quarterly of Light Verse (Chicago), The NY Times, Reader's Digest, and The Bedford Introduction to Literature, St. Martins Press, edited by Michael Meyer, as well as Poetry: An Introduction, St. Martin's Press, edited by Michael Meyer. His eBooks can be found at Smashwords