“The swallow” – poem about a swallow study (by someone with PSP)

Florida-based poet Carlton Johnson has been diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy.  He published a book titled “A Thimble of Time” in 2020 (available on Amazon).  Here’s a poem about his first swallow study.


The swallow

by Carlton Johnson

In fluoroscopy, after a sip of barium,

he sees his little little birdlike swallow

falter in flashes of an eye,

sip from lip to come-hither

tip of tongue—

the gulp erupts like a brick

tossed into a well of mumbles.


Down, down the throat

the cool metal sloshes

around the epiglottis.

Eddies in a small catch basin form.

Water, once  friend, now interlopes

in this space of air,

drops down like hardness

to an unarmed pipe.


A cough of dried leaves

rises, spastic. He harkens

for that old voice, now hidden

under brushwoood

where a small song wren

once sang,

gone now,


in this choke of winter.