Swan Prophecy

by Doug Rutledge

When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs.
When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.
—Ansel Adams

A swan reflects upon the question
mark his body forms in the deep

blue beneath him, like the photograph
Ansel Adams said he would replace

with silence. Lohengrin rides a swan
to save his mistress and protect

the grail. Wagner thought of Ludwig
as the Swan King ruling Neuschwanstein,

the New Swan Stone Castle, where Nazis
secluded stolen art during the war.

If the boat sinks, hold your nose
and run like hell for the other side,

my father’s frustrated sergeant snarked
at the private, who failed the army’s

swimming lessons before he sailed toward
D-Day. Dad never wore a life

jacket on our fishing trips; the Polaroid
photographs of our catches

are curled now and yellowed, like memories
refusing to formulate. You could smell

the bodies for miles, Dad said of his corps’
march toward Dachau. During the early

period of our entry, a number of company
men cried, while others raged,

Lt. Col. Felix Sparks reported. Thirty thousand
prisoners, who were still alive, began

to shout in unison. Several bodies were tossed
and torn apart by hundreds of hands.

Would you rather be reborn as a whale,
a panther, or a swan? my father

used to ask. Socrates saw souls
floating in the ether, waiting

to be reborn into a new body.
Shortly before he swallowed

hemlock, Socrates said,
Grant me the prophecy of a swan.

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