and four more brief pieces of prose.
By COLE SWENSEN.
The structure of trees outlined against sky—their thousands of fingers all caressing its starkness—it’s November, a matter of revealing the map that trees make of the thought-paths throughout the atmosphere—we can only follow them to the ends of their twigs, but they go on in filaments too fine for our eyes and, in fact, extend to the farthest edges of the universe, expanding with it.
And how it differs from shadow—more shelter in posture—what casts it is always more nurture, an angle, leaning inward, discretely reading over your shoulder.
But then again—thinking about shade vs shadow—the former is cast by something more global or perhaps just more diffuse, or maybe it’s just that they differ in their distance from the sun, which makes of them different instruments of wind—i.e., shade emerges from wind, while shadows hold it in.
Shade also quenches thirst, which has to do with a darkness that absorbs regret, running over your skin in thin sheets of crow dissolved in equal parts rain and gusting wind. It seems we always come back to wind—it’s windy again and the shade is rent, is ripped and shredded, yet will not relent, will not give in—in fact, it insists—and so is still here beside me, affectionately looming.
A friend of mine does ink paintings of lively marks scattered across papyrus in a kind of gentle explosion of asemic writing, though every time I see them, I think of huge flocks of close-flying birds, and as I left her studio yesterday, I accidentally slammed the door, startling dozens of crows out of an old oak—who, flying up, looked like they were writing on the sky or as if the sky itself had just written them into life.
Considering the re-consideration of the pronoun that’s been underway for the past several years—so welcome and so overdue—I would like to propose that the subjective, objective, and possessive for all single humans be covered by the pronoun it. That we should ever deserve to be classed among rivers, mountains, trees, grains of sand, stars—just think of the marvels that have attained the status of it—could a human ever aspire to such distinction? Clearly not, but in adopting the pronoun, we would acknowledge our recognition of its greatness and our desire to emulate it.
I saw a bird out my window—hovering, holding her own, her wings treading air, as it were, and staring straight in at me with an interrogative look, or at least so it seemed, which made me, in turn, ask myself why and how the bird was, in her own way, so clearly another window. And as I watched each wingbeat, I saw that it was an opening, each one lightly unlatching a slight window in the sky. It turns out that this is true for all birds and at every hour of every day—every wingbeat opens another airborne window, and while this makes these windows not quite infinite, they are, at the very least, extremely numerous.
COLE SWENSEN is the author of 19 books of poetry, most recently Art in Time (Nightboat Books, 2021), and a volume of critical essays, Noise that Stays Noise (U. of Michigan Press, 2011). A book of faux-logical nano-essays on poetics, And And And, is coming out from Shearsman Books in 2023. A former Guggenheim Fellow, recipient of the Iowa Poetry Prize, the SF State Poetry Center Book Award, the National Poetry Series, and the PEN USA Award in translation, she also translates poetry and art criticism from French and divides her time between France and the US.