The Yellow Swan

I love the black swan.
James Merrill, “The Black Swan”

At noon the pedaled swans afloat midstream
                 or parked at the water’s rim
find the boy first in line or there before
there is a line, and always the nice boatman
lets him mount his favorite ride, whose name 
                defies all rust and wear.
        He whispers, I love the yellow swan,

a secret he knows better than to share
                 save in the hollow ear-
like curve of that arched neck whose mirror image
breaks on rings of water as he climbs
between the wings and pedals from the pier, 
                a trail of molted plumage
         shuddering in his wake. The river foams,

churned by the paddle wheel and changed to ocean,
                 its surface cut by the question
mark of the swan—no, dragon!—gliding on
the hissing bloodstained waters as he turns
fire on darkness, almost wins his mission
                 while his parents chat in the sun,
         unaware of all that burns

down on the other bank. But like most love 
                the swan-ride is cut off.
The stroke of one o’clock returns the beast
to boat, the boat to boatman. He hates the boatman.
He hates his parents, whom he won’t forgive. 
                He hates the girl who’s next.
         Poor boy, he hates the yellow swan.

Excerpted from The Palace of Forty Pillars by Armen Davoudian. Published with permission from Tin House. Copyright © 2024 by Armen Davoudian. All Rights Reserved.