After the Traffic Jam

by Marc Swan

It’s almost three—stop and go for two hours
heading south from Portland to Norton, a retirement
party for a creative writing instructor who changed
many lives. Road work we realize
as traffic pulses past the first orange construction sign.
When we arrive an hour and a half late
current and former students are gathered in an alcove
in the library, a tub of cold beer, chilled white wine,
snacks on a side table. The honoree sits in the second row,
eyes dead ahead as former students pay tribute, read
poems from now and then, shake the dice on a faraway
time that seems so familiar. My wife steps up to the podium,
poem in hand, words warm and caring as she recalls
how this woman brought light to a time in her life filled
with confusion and, yes, despair. A poem of loss, love,
and a taste of redemption, a nice quality in any poem
Tess Gallagher would say. After the readings, after beer,
wine, snacks, touchback spaces filled with connections
only those who lived it can understand, we head to Wendell’s,
a beer pub where memories were shaped for some, for me,
a time to sit with a small cluster of poets speaking the po-talk
that only comes from love of the poetic word.
I’m seated by a flamboyant woman, Japanese-style jacket,
white shirt, blue tie, hair cut short she flips over one ear,
hands in constant motion. “Italian?” I ask.
“Sicilian,” she says, “born in blue-collar America.”
Earlier this year, on impulse, she traveled to Ireland,
found a publisher for her first book, an eighty-page manuscript
she shares with me. I skim the pages, find myself stopping,
reading, rereading page after page—a solid piece of work
in process for twenty years she says. I wonder at this,
hearing of the acceptance of her poems by magazines far
beyond my reach. The lit world is a remarkable place. We write,
we strive, we find homes for these dog-eared pages we hold onto
revising, revising and on those rare occasions we find
a sense of community when least expected.


Marc Swan is a retired vocational rehabilitation counselor. His poems have recently been published or forthcoming in The Antigonish Review, Ropes, Sanskrit, The Broadkill Review, Nuclear Impact Anthology, among others.  He lives with his wife Dd in Portland Maine.

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