Leda and The Swan

Andrew Miller

Down at the edge of the cement pond,
Plastic bag in hand,
My daughter is throwing bread to the swans.
I am sitting on the park-bench above her,
Having been told she’s big enough now,
Having been told to watch her go alone
To stand on the shore’s concrete lip
Two feet above the rocking water.

It’s the first time I’ve felt—
The first time I can remember feeling—
Her woolen fingers slip my hand.
Now, the footpath between us,
She can throw all the bread she wants she says.
She can look back and smile.
She can pretend never to look back at all.

Who’s to argue?
Reminded again of how she’s five—almost six,
I’m rebuked for saying “careful, careful.”
I’m told I am old. I’m slow.
I must sit and watch all she can do,
And she can do a lot:

At her feet, the lake roils white with swans.
Complete with a retinue of coots and ducks—
Their flotilla comes at her command.
“Watch the tricks I make them do,” she calls:
Each well-aimed crust of bread drives
The whole flock to rush to the right, the left,
Then back-peddle again, then herd in close
Below her hands. Like this, she chooses champions.
A Wonder-Bread ball lobbed in between two males
Will make them fight, their bills hissing
Midst a hydra of necks, terns and diving gulls.
The meanest birds she scolds with nicknames,
But to them she gives more.
And more swans come, and more.
Pellet-eyes fix on an emptying plastic bag.
Water surges hardly green for wings.

Fear teaches a new father to hate ten thousand things.
Elbows on knees, feet planted to leap,
He knows how small hands will reach to touch
Amazing filths, festering on rusting iron.

He knows, how mittened fingers
Can unearth, in the sandbox,
The treasure of a used syringe.
So I came to hate the world once—
Hated its speeding bicycles, its sprinting joggers,
Its passing, yellow-eyed dogs, and so I fought
To foresee all that could happen and saw—
Before my mind’s eye—the impacts of angular edges,
The razor sharpnesses, the fast cars’ bumpers,
The glaringly wide-open, four-story windows
Through which she might drop,
The trench-coated strangers with rummy eyes.

Watching without seeing,
Staring without noticing,
Where has that old hate gone
When I need it the most?

It’s only after the bull-swan has unhitched his body
From the water’s reflections to waddle up on shore—
His wings opening,
His sudden shadow falling over my daughter’s cry—
I wake inside this myth already happening.

Andrew Miller is a poet, critic and translator with over one hundred publications to his name. His poems have appeared in such journals as The Massachussett’s Review, Iron Horse, Shenandoah, Spoon River Reivew, Ekphrastic Review, Laurel Review, Hunger Mountain, New Orleans Review, Ekphrasis Review and Rattle. In addition, he has had poems appear in such anthologies as How Much Earth, Anthology of Fresno Poets (2001) and The Way We Work: Contemporary Literature from the Workplace (2008). Finally, he is one of the co-editors of The Gazer Within, The Selected Prose of Larry Levis (2001) and the author of Poetry, Photography Ekphrasis: Lyrical Representations of Photography from the 19th Century to the Present (Liverpool University Press, 2015). Presently, he resides Copenhagen, Denmark, with this wife and daughters.

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