Issue 4 – Summer 2003 – Cole Swensen

Cole Swensen



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 
                       add one 
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, 
                         palmar view,
                  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.