Literary Spotlight: Wally Swist

Literary Spotlight: Wally Swist

From Vol. V #5

By Wally Swist

The first film I remember seeing was
The Rat Race, with Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds, a blur
of a memory, sitting next to my mother, who I believe was
her way of preparing me, at the age of eight, for the society

I would eventually enter, and honoring the intuition of her
death. I recall how she grasped me close next to her in
the seat beside her, only days later would she vacate her body
and leave this world, with grave inimitable solemnity.

When I saw Doctor Zhivago, I knew I had something;
the mother’s death at the beginning of the film, and the scene
with Zhivago passing Lara in the trolley, before they had
ever met, and the sparks that ignited above the carriage, over

their heads, will be with me forever, never mind the mysterious
afterglow about their faces, when they are shown in bed
together, baffling my twelve-year old nature; but it was when
Zhivago was writing the Lara poems by candlelight in

the snow mansion, balling up early drafts and tossing them
on the floor, now that sung to me as what I could do with my life.
Although it wasn’t until the summer after high school,
when I would begin to see films twice, once for enjoyment, and

the second time for critical effect, that I stayed several times for
The Sting, with Paul Newman and Robert Redford; or when
I was reading Hermann Hesse, and saw Steppenwolf, with
Max von Sydow, that for me film started to become art, upon

which I referred to such productions as cinema, and my joining
four film societies at Yale, my favorite being the one at
the Law School, where on Saturday nights there were always big
films being shown, such as Fellini’s Casanova, with Donald

Sutherland, looming large on the screen, black cape dragging
the ground behind him, or Lina Wertmuller’s Seven Beauties,
and Giancarlo Giannini who expanded the definition of tragic-
comic hero of the silver screen, as irritating and sometimes

cowardly as he was often handsome and endearing.
Not until Wim Wenders’ masterpiece Wings of Desire, or
Der Himmel Uber Berlin, shot by Henri Alekan, who also was
the cinematographer for Jean Cocteau, and who provided

the grain of the black and white scenes by using a remnant
of his grandmother’s silk stockings from the 1930s. This film
being the definition of what cinema can be, reflecting upon
my own life and its myth and fairy tale assemblage, written

by Peter Handke, often giving the actors lines sounding as if
they might have been written by Rilke; with Bruno Ganz, who
abdicated his immortal angelhood by throwing down his angelic
breastplate for the nubile trapeze artist, Marion, played by

Solveig Dommartin, true and perennial erdengel; how you must
look down on us now from your heavenly nimbus, having died
too young. If we are so very lucky, in our hours of alarm, should
we awaken to find around our mortal shoulders your dear arms.

Wally Swist’s books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012); The Daodejing: A New Interpretation, with David Breeden and Steven Schroeder (Lamar University Press, 2015); Invocation (Lamar University Press, 2015), and The Windbreak Pine (Snapshot Press, 2016). Forthcoming books include: The View of the River (Kelsay Books, 2017), Candling the Eggs (Shanti Arts, LLC, 2017), and Singing for Nothing from Street to Street: Selected Nonfiction as Literary Memoir (The Operating System, 2018).

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