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Mary Fister

Warm-Up Round


Each day at dusk

I watch birds gather,

bristle tops of limbs

on the pasture’s western edge.

They land farther south each day.

Trees darken with their grackled bodies,

and seed-spitting

gavels the air.


Never still, they land from who

knows where. Some are cast out,

gather in another tree.

Black knots of talk keep spreading

until sun throws

no more light.

Then an abrupt plunge

into silence.


Last night they came closest.

I could almost make out

gray flecks on wings

as they homed on top of a flaming maple

by the riding ring while my daughter

rode. Birds were restless.

Her mare sensed

the ruckus above her,

but could not see

the whoosh

of their take-off.


The mare spooked. My daughter

soothed her down.

What caught her off guard?

Me, never ready

for the relief

when she did not fall off.

Birds roosted again,

inched closer to the coming of winter.



Swing, Swang, Swung


All summer when I pass

that apple tree, the one with the swing


                                                     I stumble.

Tall grass and jewelweed tower

beneath its wooden seat as if

                                                   some shunned

grief is having a say,

where even in testy adolescence

my daughter asks

                               for an underdog.


The take-off footing is too slick,

makes pulling her back high and tight enough

before charging down

                                                                          the dip

then letting her go in a thrilled hurl so hard.

Is she too long and blade-like

to get under?


I wonder if our rowdiness coaxes her father

                                                                         to the window,

or if his stupor brews deep

behind darkened drapes, keeps him prone.

I wonder how ground swelled up so quickly

beneath that splintered seat.

She’s the one getting taller, not me.

And the rut where her bare feet


to a cockeyed stop is filling in.

Has that bough housed enough squeals and push-offs?

Is this the kind of separation

I keep pushing away?


Not once do I consider the overgrown halo

of jewelweed rising under that tree

as the cause for that distance

                                                         closing in

until last night when I mowed well past dusk,

clipped those blooms

that kept hummingbirds buttered

in a ruby-throated glow

                                          all summer.

Too weary to brew them simple syrup this year,

the plastic feeder hung empty,

                                                 a red zone

that used to still their sparring arcs.


My thrill is rickety

                                when I spot

that swing. I cannot summon

my daughter’s whole summer afternoons lost

                                                                         by swaying,

good book hand

aloft in the story.

Inside he totters, tilts, sometimes trips.

Not once does he give her a push.

That swing, the reason to have said yes

                                                                to this house

Last night the early windfall

of apples and proved moving here

already dropped too much loss.



Mary Fister teaches writing and literature at the University of Hartford where she has been part of the faculty for 35 years. Her poems have appeared in journals such as The Massachusetts Review, Ploughshares, Tar River Poetry, and Volt, among others. Her chapbook, Provenance of the Lost, was published by Finishing Line Press. Her first full-length collection, Quick to Bolt, came out in April, 2023, from Green Writers Press.


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