Rosicrucian in the Basement is a book of poems about Dr. Irving M. Sward, born about 100 years ago in Poltava, Russia, into an Orthodox Jewish family. A conservative, rather stern, five-eyelet shoe, white-shirt-and-tie, 9-to-5 pogrom-surviving immigrant, Dr. Sward became a successful Chicago podiatrist.
After his wife’s death he became a devout Rosicrucian, a member of a society venerating the rose and the cross as symbols of Christ’s resurrection and redemption and claiming various occult powers. Robert Sward’s poems, based on his father’s life, capture the tension between a profession where one does something with one’s hands – performing surgery on feet, cutting corns, carving arch supports – a trade in a sense, and talking with angels, seeing the two worlds: visible and invisible and how seven-eighths of everything is invisible anyway.
“I like the wide sweep of it. There are many mysteries between father and son that people don’t talk about…. The father figure comes through consistently, there’s a lot of buoyancy, and the son is consistent and fine too.”
– Robert Bly, author of Iron John
“What’s to explain?” he asks.
He’s a closet meditator. Rosicrucian in the basement.
In my father’s eyes: dream.
“There are two worlds,” he says,
liquid-filled crystal flask
and yellow glass egg on the altar.
He’s the “professional man: —
so she calls him, my stepmother.
That, and “the Doctor”:
“The Doctor will see you now,” she says,
working as his receptionist.
He’s a podiatrist — foot surgery a specialty —
on Chicago’s North Side.
Russian-born Orthodox Jew
with zaftig Polish wife, posh silvery white starlet
Hilton Hotel hostess.
excerpt from Rosicrucian in the Basement