Gusty Dirge

Elisabeth Commanday Swim

1. Even raptors heed the wind


Sky dragons, these vultures reign 

over seagrass marshes, 

eating smaller winged things.


Alighting as they like on crests of Sabal palms*, 

the black birds splash at twilight among choice perches.

Frond fans spray sound like spindrift when their feet lift off. 


Spanish moss undulates like tresses 

from Southern Live Oak’s canopy crown

—terrestrial mermaid to invisible sea 

in whose vast verticality 

raptors catch currents and ride, revealing unseen eddies.


Spiral soaring in sync, bird bodies follow beaks. 

Each raptor curls on currents 

teeters totters 


changes in the wind. 


Suddenly in obvious effort, 

one flaps a moment of asymmetry,

beak pointed unflinchingly toward another’s tail.

The rest of the flock surfs swirling eddies fluently, 

in unbroken symmetry. 


*Sabal Texana, palm tree native to South Texas


2. Gusty Dirge


Palmetto fans float and sway. 

Live Oak branch see-saws up and down. 

Oleander nods, bromeliads shiver.


Air ocean overhead sounds a gusty dirge, 

tossing dead leaves, dust, detritus, 

gargantuan stems of fallen palm fronds.


Wind waves knocking down 

street signs and hair styles fan screen door 

open and shut, tapping time 

until the tune is through or I hook the latch.


Gusty winds, buoy my steps like bird flight. 

Cradle and rock me as I drive these two hundred miles

north to the city, following another’s tail lights.


May I not fear asymmetry when 

your zealous bellows send me 

floating toward the median 

before I turn the wheel back again.


Upon arrival when I hear you

crash against my room,

may I not hear a death knell 

of churning deluge, 

but a lullaby

you hum to me 

on rolling tides of leaves.

Elisabeth Commanday Swim is an author and teaching musician in Houston, TX. Her ekphrastic poems have been published by Words and Art with whom she was a featured reader at both the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston and the Menil Collection. Her elegy for the Ambassador Stevens was published by the Natsoulas Gallery in California. She served as editor and publisher for three seasons at Houston Grand Opera, which produced her original translation of “Vastness Unadorned,” an essay on Wagner by Baudelaire. Born in Berkeley, and raised in Oakland, California, Elisabeth holds a degree in English and French Literature from Swarthmore College and an M.A. in music from Hunter College. She loves maps, harpsichords and kites.