Steve Hellyard Swartz

by Best Poem

What could happen here, on this quiet street

In a neighborhood like this
Which is nothing if not tame

Has happened
The hospice nurse told you
It’s as bad as it’s going to get
For your aunt
So you walk the grounds
Trailed by your little dog
Nothing more can happen here
The nurse told you
Looking over the top of a mug of tea you made
One for her, one for you
(You almost called out to your aunt
Do you want one, too)?
She’ll be gone in a month
Or tonight or
We just don’t know

You look back at your dog
Your little Bichon
Little clown
You recall
How your aunt used to love to watch her dance
Your aunt, who bought her a Scotch plaid coat
Like the tape, she said, rifling through her hardware drawer
To find a roll of tape
So the dog would see what she meant

You pick up papers that have blown onto the lawn
Was it in a movie?
Or a dream?
You remember somewhere
Someone started using articles instead of possessive pronouns
For everything
As a loved one was dying
You pick up
A tip-in for The New Yorker
A filthy piece of paper with SUN SETTER AWN on it in red
Your dog runs in front of you, headed for the street
You’d given the hospice nurse
A Christmas mug, with Snoopy on top of his dog house, wearing his aviator goggles and a holiday scarf
Come back is what you should yell at your dog

A man’s voice yells STOP
And your heart drops
Your dog has run to the edge of the lawn
And is barking at the man and his German Shepherd
Wake up! The man is screaming at you as you run to pick up your dog and cradle her in your arms
You are shaking as you hold your dog and look at the man
Who stares at you for a second
You almost laugh when it crosses your mind:
He’s sizing me up

You think about telling him what the hospice nurse told you
You think about mentioning the Christmas mug
Your mother, whom you rarely see,
Has told you that
You need
To get out more
The man with the Shepherd scolds you
You have to watch your dog
We don’t need any problems here
He pulls on the Shepherd’s leash and walks away
You try to kiss your dog but she turns her head and barks at their backs
You head towards the house
There is so much junk on the lawn
Winter is crude, you say to your dog
But what season doesn’t, in its own way, treat us with disdain?

You remember years ago when you called your aunt from L.A.
The night John pushed you to the floor and put his hands around your neck
You told her
I know I should call the police
I know I should
I just can’t
Your aunt told you
Just do what you need to do
You hold your dog as you bend down to pick up more crap off the lawn
The hospice nurse is walking to her little pale Prius
She waves to you and
You do something that you know you’ll remember till your dying day
You take your dog’s paw and use it to wave back
You’re out of breath, finished with the lawn
It could be tonight
It could be tomorrow
It could be a month
And then she’ll be gone

Steve Hellyard Swartz’s poetry has appeared in Best Poem, New Verse News, Haggard and Halloo, switched-on guttenberg and The Kennesaw Review. In 2008, his poetry will appear in The Paterson Review and The Southern Indiana Review. In 1990, his film, “Never Leave Nevada”, opened in Dramatic Competition at the U.S. Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.