This is now uncommon. And therefore brittle sheers:
To burnish is to
raise the carapace, the doorknob, the letterbox, the concierge who
gleaming in the sun, turns to sear. This gilded bone. A “we repeat it.”
Did not reflect our faces. Or those of any we knew. This is a nameplate. Affixed
to a doorway. No, to a door. Answer: there’s no one there. This is decor; a thin layer of gold that shines in tune. A leaf on which is added one to
one and one.
It’s a name “scratched” “thereon”
if I raise a finger
and say I’m not at home, please; I may for once
Please show me home.
When gold leaf crumples, it disappears.
There’s no one at the door, but we
told you this already, there is
the door. The man who polishes it was born
with a missing hand. Whose?
he says, and laughs at the joke,
but we told you this already.
The Thumb: based on
The basal joint, permitting half
to that account
very slight and very much
a fore than aft of those
made more for strength than for motion. Meets at torque and its exposed position. This enables reaching and can only
begin to map what will eventually become
a circular man. Michelangelo gave the thumb a brain, rooted in opposition. In fact, those born with more than one were
considered blessed, and heaven would swing down within reach, while a sixth finger (or, rather, technically, the fifth)
was the devil’s flesh. If it lived,
it caused, and caught on things in passing, but they still passed.
The Intern’s Problem
When a baby is born with six fingers (each one wanted and wanted to be
equally perfect) a young man
cuts off the withered excesses and wonders if he’ll be sued
if what becomes
a blinking wing and/or why this road
suddenly clears. Why does everything come in shards and a body
is a body until it’s cut
Sculpted only doors that shut. One is forced to admit
that an infant belongs to no one
In this case, however, the mother just laughed and pointed
to the scars along her own ulnar edges. Extra fingers,
it seems, can be removed to a certain extent.
The Anatomy of Trees
Note the singular. Has endless fingers, filters senses, running its appendages
through the sky, distracted,
if you hold up
the hand in bright daylight, it is well-known
that if you hold a flashlight behind the hand,
in the dull red
you can see for miles and things
don’t get smaller in the distance.
The Mechanics of the Hand
At the four corners of the original wrist
follows the hand, which we have already established as motion, whole
As the carpal bones arch backward
as the wrist, which only intersects after will in profile suggest
What broken hills have fallen
(“and the ridge turns slightly”) (to follow)
in a system one could call arbitrary but efficiency
which also clicks through the fractioned chambers
making a long, convex curve into the hollow they adapt
this immigrant nation, tendon, nerve. Hollow, yet drawn toward
the ends of the fingers bind
(e.g., the little finger on the ulnar side) bends back
more easily into the world.
Cole Swensen’s most recent book is Such Rich Hour (2001). She also translates from contemporary French; a novel by Jean Fremon titled The Island of the Dead and Pascalle Monnier’s book-length poem Bayart are her most recent publications. She divides her time between Paris, Washington DC, and Iowa, where she’s on the faculty of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.