Five Landscapes

By Cole Swensen b. 1955 Cole Swensen
Green moves through the tops of trees and grows
lighter greens as it recedes, each of which includes a grey, and among the
greys, or beyond them, waning finely into white, there is one white spot,
absolute; it could be an egret or perhaps a crane at the edge of the water
where it meets a strip of sand.

There is a single, almost dazzling white spot of a white house out loud
against the fields, and the forest in lines
receding, rises,
and then planes. Color,
in pieces or entire; its presence
veneers over want; in all its moving parts, it could be something else
half-hidden by trees. Conservatory, gloriette, gazebo, or bandshell,
a door ajar on the top floor.

The trees are half air. They fissure the sky; you could count the leaves, pare
                              defined as that which,
                              no matter how barely, exceeds
                              what the eye could grasp in a glance;
intricate woods opening out before a body of water edged
with a swatch of meadow where someone has hung a bright white sheet
out in the sun to dry.
A white bird in a green forest is a danger to itself. Stands out. Shines. Builds
up inside. Like it’s dangerous to cry while driving or to talk to strangers or to
stare at the sun and a thousand other things
                                                                                   we’ve always heard
people who wear white see better at night, though they gradually lose this
trait as they age.

The air across the valley is slightly hazy though thinning though patches
remain between the groves of trees that edge a clearing in which stands a
single house. A child in a white t-shirt has just walked out of the house and
is turning to walk down to the lake.

Cole Swensen, “Five Landscapes” from Goest. Copyright © 2004 by Cole Swensen. Reprinted by permission of Alice James Books.

Source: Goest (Alice James Books, 2004)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Cole Swensen b. 1955

Subjects Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Trees & Flowers, Animals

Poetic Terms Free Verse


Cole Swensen was born and raised near San Francisco and earned her BA and MA  from San Francisco State University and a PhD from the University of California Santa Cruz. She is a former director of the creative program at the University of Denver and taught in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. She is currently a professor in the literary arts program at Brown University and founder and editor of La Presse, a . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Trees & Flowers, Animals

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.