Elements of the Garden by Cole Swensen


Things grown in moonlight—metallic in sound—the moon sheds a wind—needle in kind. Any seed planted under a new moon will come up poisonous—any planted under the full will walk on its own. Will walk all night—casting a mineral light that will blind the moon.



Unlike the moon—there is no new sun—and the man walking with a blazing torch will disappear at noon.



Who walked a lake—waking every small thing golden in its light—who walked on back—behind the sun—walking over water—farther goes the going over—to calm, now morning and all egret all around it, a pond.



Birds are small things—they are berries in the branches bending the branches—breaking the berries with their tendency toward bursting—staining—and instantly the stain of birdsong all over the otherwise pristine air—the air now beyond repair—and yet they continue to be small things—too small to be held accountable—stealing—or called feasting on seedlings—so that at times the berries never come up at all.



Dim silence in stamen—in pistil drawn blind. Night is a fall of footsteps—a rhythm in the leaves—the bells come back alive. Night counts by them—or by the branch that scrapes—or the pear that drops and never lands. While land goes on—its singing own—inside each seed.



There is no such thing as a weed.

The weed—essential in its station—without hesitation, crucial to the niche it causes—unfurled across the creases of a field across which cattle amble—seeds and burrs sauntering along in their fur—and birds, their pockets full of the most unexpected things.



The hand grows on, grows a steel edge, the hand conforms, the bones wrap around, some of the earliest tools were made of bone, the hand wraps around a year and makes it a stone, and the year rages on.

The hand is man’s only real tool, basking in the sun throughout a busy afternoon.



Think gardener of every—think gardener of signs—let me hand you the hand of a man who gardens time. Birds, the gardeners of the sky. There’s a person at the far end of the garden who seems not to be paying much attention to all of this—who seems to be leaning over and raking the dark earth with her hands—though, in fact, it’s not the earth—and it’s not so dark—but it is your heart.




Cole Swensen is the author of 17 volumes of poetry and one of critical essays. Her work has won the Iowa Poetry Prize, the SF State Poetry Center Book Award, and the National Poetry Series. A former Guggenheim Fellow, she co-edited the Norton anthology American Hybrid. She divides her time between Paris and Providence RI, where she teaches at Brown University. coleswensen.com