The Swan, No. 1, Hilma af Klint

When I was a child, a bird fell from the sky and landed in a doorway in front of me. Body crumpled like the black swan pressed flat against the glass of the display. Birds are omens, it is said, and I have carried that doorway omen in my pocket all my life.

Maybe the swans are kissing. One slip from “n” to “m,” Klint to Klimt, and The Swan becomes The Kiss. Maybe they are the voice of God—of some god or the god or a god—maybe they are God and Adam on the ceiling and Adam is kissing God, or I am the one kissing God, or really I am kissing myself because I do not know what else to do. Don’t be afraid; Blake heard it too. The channel of his mind flipped from static to Heaven to Hell to the reflection of all creatures in between. God as a tiger, or a lamb. Or as a swan.

The swans are like Narcissus, except each is the reflection and neither believes it. There’s something so strange about the sound of your own voice played back in recording. Husky imitation slipping from that slender swan neck that you tie in a bow in the mirror. The omen is my grandfather, wings clipped by barbed wire, and I do not ask him what he’s seen. The omen is my love, telling me we are the same through the wind of a houndstooth kiss.

The line between swans is horizon and there I see their heads are sun on water. And there I see where their wings touch. And there I see they are not the same: the black wing sharp and pointed, the white, curved slightly. This wing is the trail of the tongue, it is smoke from a glass shard chimney, it is salt spilling into stars.

And now perhaps they aren’t swans at all, but geese, and I am nowhere to be found.

Ryan Varadi currently lives in Chicago, where he writes on the train on the way to work his retail job. He is working toward a debut poetry collection in which a young speaker grapples with Jewish generational trauma, midwestern boyhood, whiteness, heartbreak, and grief through the lenses of art and augury. He holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where he received the Bernice Kert Fellowship and was nominated twice for the AWP Intro Journals Project. He received his BA in English from Northwestern University, where he won the Edwin L. Shuman Award for Poetry for two of his original poems. He teaches online at The Porch and previously taught at UNCW and the Northwestern University Center for Talent Development. He has served as editorial staff for Ecotone, Chautauqua, and Helicon and as an intern for RHINO Poetry. His work appears or is forthcoming in The Shore and Collision Literary Magazine, among others.