Conjunctions:32 Eye to Eye

Such Rich Hour
The following is an excerpt from the original selection of poems by Cole Swensen (with images from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, fifteenth century, computer-manipulated by the author) published in Conjunctions:32.

March 1

          (Thus we find triads: dimension, form, and order
substance, nature, power

                                       and took (all three brothers
                                                       or was it the single other?)
every care and every caution:

green infused with grey             indicates               a cult of weather

were you born here were you born
vassal, slave, your only master
with the fingers of a weaver tied back the finite branches
with the fingers of a lover let the seed sift through his fingers

who so thereafter lived here. A small dog running up to the road
in front of a flock of sheep in front of a large man carrying
something (we can’t see what) (sheaf) (shearing) holding (soft)
against him


May 1, 1410, 1 A.M.: Les Revenants

               Old and on / certain nights of the Walpurgis             I saw it
                                                              a thing that lives
                                        on bridges

“...for centuries were the exclusive privilege of the very wealthy
       and of saints.”

my apprehension
stood on a bridge slightly
swaying, vagary of wind,
tracery of sound that could have been wind
                                                                   carved. And refused
to leave. “Here lives
               what I did and cannot stop doing

“Then suddenly by the 11th or 12th century, they were all over,
sometimes alone, sometimes in great numbers, at first largely in
dreams, but soon not so confined.”
          (came back to us)
             (and I thought I saw)       (as he was

                                                     the army of the dead, they called it Maisnie Hellequin—soldiers, children, women, saints, by the thousands with all their attributes on

The moral was blatant (“there they go, paying”) but we were too distracted by their faces, how they hadn’t

changed at all and were          more similar and were
                                                                        the precision there,                                                                         the choice.


May 30, 1427: Jeanne-Not-Yet-Saint with Sheep

When they eat from your hand it’s said that you’re saved
          or that you saved them.    You can never be sure.
                                              What you heard.             What did
And how          do you know it was Saints She and Her?
                                           And which them?
                                           And will you agree to the musical score.

We ask you to
close your eyes and picture: it’s night (held close, black & white).
Campfires, men in armor, the army at the gate.        and we haven’t
even begun to consider what we really mean by mad. If it
approaches. Seeing vs. seen.
And will make of it a king.                            We ask you to picture
men huddled around fire. There was so much less light then. And
       it glinted their armored
bodies into black bodies of water. The way things move in
       uncertain light
is not to be discounted. A touch
with the tip of a finger or an otherwise sleeping forehead, between
       the eyebrows and up about half an inch. What
would you give.


June 1

Sickle one, scythe two and sweep and sheaf and sign
in the rocking field and the river whole
in its own          (what hold

of the errance of a spire (despite appearance
                         it’s miles

(at the door of the river) (that curves into harvest

Choir: Let us
          harbor in this witness
                                                  a man
                      with an oar
shreds a surface

(at the door he calls a river)

a person slipping inward

                       How stone reigns
                       How hay stings
                       (How swing this scythe so I look a little less like
                                                                      my own death) who

of all the towers on the castle, three are red.
What are they carrying in the boat?
(List everything you could carry
away in a boat.)


October 1, 1445

How to paint a filament designed to be invisible:
How to paint a white dog against a white wall:
How a world in stages, striated, calibrated:

first you notice the person walking, the river that occupies the center of the picture, the three boats and the one man, arms raised, something hard in his hand. Such a busy world ruled by birds, held down by a stone, and what is—just behind and to the right of the first tower on the left—the moon that looks like a planet of skies against the sky and how do we live there and how do we live on air.

Executed 1440–1450, after shadows had been invented, and reflections,and lives on water, and is made of light or of its slight absence.

Cole Swensen's latest books include a collection of poetry, Art in Time (Nightboat Books), and a volume of critical essays, Noise that Stays Noise (University of Michigan Press). She has won the Iowa Poetry Prize, the SF State Poetry Center Book Award, and the National Poetry Series and has been a finalist for the National Book Award. Also a translator, she divides her time between Paris and Providence, Rhode Island.