Online Exclusive

Swiss Miss
Lingers now in peace upon the swollen tide,
ruby-throat fallen from sky in the last few hours.
This information: unblemished, on her good side,
not sleeping, and Swiss birds won’t eat thistle.

After the circus and before investigation,
the fliers linger on imagination, the Bohemian
Waxwing juggler, those quick Chickadee tumblers.
The Swiss detective wears wingtips.

Lisalot, I miss you, I didn’t mean to release you.
Flights of fancy and flocking in the banquet hall,
while the river, beyond filmy curtains and balcony,
runs to the lake, carrying her body as if sleeping.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you will please quit chattering,
if you will just try hard to remember, the details,
anything in the recent past. It shouldn’t be difficult.
Time was I loved you, deaer Lisalot, I never dropped you.

Check everyone’s wrists, the nature of their shoes and
identification. Is there residual powder in anyone’s palms?
Check times of arrival, those missing, each performer.
Remember, Swiss birds won’t eat thistle.

Was it the proud German, Finch? That week in Luzern?
You flew as a hummingbird from the bar then, in Bern.
And check also the Limmat River, send in the clowns.
Embraceable you, sweet ruby-throat, I’ve washed my hands.

Feathered boas and short tights in the banquet hall,
Madam Vireo, the contortionist, and her dwarf entourage.
Check for splinters, look most carefully under the nails.
Lisalot: tossed high up in the contest in St. Gallen.

We were the rage of the competition, the odd birds
who flew out in our nature and faked danger theatrically
after those months of practice, home in Furna. I never
looked at you closely, gripping your ankles, in that way.

Then the German, Finch. Or was it that Harlequin, Jaeger?
Take but a moment to consider, Swiss birds won’t eat thistle,
then take each one into a room, backstage, and ask questions.
Lisalot, my darling partner, little Swiss Miss, I warned you.

[General atmosphere: the river, ominous mist over the lake,
the Swiss detective, maybe elaborate cages hung in the hall.
He could be innocent, an accident. She could be a strumpet.
His hands, or he stands at the rear of the line murmuring.]

Please stop chattering. Defend your heads against the cages.
Prepare, please, your stage and real names and associations.
Have you been with the circus long? How well did you know
Lisalot? Things like that. What can you tell me about thistle?

Then, in Grindelwald, we were eager. The Eiger rose majestic
above the Chalet, your hair silk feathers in my fingers.
Lisalot, you called my nose a beak, humming softly in laughter.
Almost love birds in an alpine cage! What becomes of me now?

A dwarf stands upon the shoulders of the Strong Man, Hawk.
His real name is Meadowlark and it’s taking far too long.
He opens a few cages. Pademonium! The fledglings can’t
fly well, and feathers and death squawks flood the Hall.

[I too have been crazy in jealousy. Our cat, Flicker,
and the foreign sock he discovered under our bed.
I wanted to kill you, quite seriously, or myself then.
You, strumpet; I the virtuous dove, already in mourning.]

Attention, please. Attention! Can you please settle down?
Lunch is on the way. We’ll be serving thistle today …
That’s right, it’s a joke. It’s seed salad and flesh
for those inclined. Thank you for your attention anyway.

Lisalot, Finch or Jaeger, it doesn’t matter; even exotic
Bachman, warbling MC, whose song might have seduced you.
Just as I was beginning to to touch you, take you under my wing.
Better had you avoided hunger, throat swelling with thistle.

Be sure, now, to check the empty cages, secreted places,
keep an eye on the ground feeders, as well as the fly catchers.
Close all the windows. The ones under suspicion might
seem without guile. Clearly, this was a crime of passion.

Thistle: in his pockets, in his cuffs, in his hair; also
there is thistle in the matting over muscle on his arms.
I smell thistle! It’s our detective, perky as a sparrow.
Thistle’s stuck in ducts, visible at the corner of his eyes.

[I too have wept around thorns, stuck in rageful weeping.
Somehow love is indecent, if ethical considerations apply.
Yet the moves of your glorious legs. I can’t describe them,
but in metaphor: legs of a hawk hanging down at landing.]

Okay, I killed you, thistle in the muesli. I’m sorry.
The last thing I wanted to do, etcetera. It was a mistake,
but I am not innocent. Lisalot, even if a dozen young men
had slept with you, even then I would still love you.

From the dead: Fuck you! I was no willing object of such
sentimental crap. I had my own agenda, and you killed me.
Christ, is it gentle here on the waves, almost exquisite,
to sleep deep on my side upon water, no man beside me.

Please behave yourselves. Miss Pelican, stop with the soaring.
The line grows shorter, and I grow increasingly satisfied.
Miss Pelican! It’s a long way yet to Tipperary, but one bird
ate thistle, and thistle hangs around. Miss Swan, that’s enough!

Lisalot! Your body turning cartwheels in the air, blah, blah,
your orchestrated clothing, tights forcing men into despair.
Your hair: innocent as chick-down or a diaper, blah, blah.
What can I say now? I still love you. I offer the proof.

[Your orchestrated clothing to say, I am here, look at me.
Perhaps love of necessity contains jealousy. I told you to go,
go, get out of here, only because you slept with another.
This is not love, but hypocrisy. Let me die in your arms.]

Difficulties among fly catchers, high wire and trapeze.
Count Scissortail comes to blows with a certain Phoebe,
a ruckus about relatives and partners. Madam Vireo is miffed,
send out her dwarfs. The detective calls once again for order.

Quick as water up from the well in Furna, my sister,
news of incest on the high wire, through the village.
It never happened. Check the quieter Towhees, their feathers.
Lisalot, each gesture, each flight, each time I caught you.

[Atmosphere: the hall a complete mess, feathers and blood,
empty as this apartment, the fled nest, no Lisalot, no you.
Thistle weighs him down, a loadstone, as much as absence
pricks like needles in our pillows, my clothing, this chair.]

You’re next, last in line. Raise your arms. Wait! Where
are you going? Come back! Check the curtains, the balcony!
[Beware of extremity, hopeless desperation, and suicide.]
Then check the river for her brother, Pigeon, no kingfisher. 

Toby Olson is the author of eleven novels, including Walking (Occidental Square Press/Chatwin). He has published numerous books of poetry, and his work has appeared in Fiction International and Golden Handcuffs Review. He spends his time in Philadelphia and North Truro, on Cape Cod.