If a Garden of Numbers

By Cole Swensen b. 1955 Cole Swensen
If a garden is the world counted
                                                           and found analogue in nature
One does not become two by ever ending
                                                                           so the stairs must be uneven in number
and not exceed
thirteen without a pause
of two paces’ width, which
                                                 for instance, the golden section
                            mitigates between abandon
and an orchestra just behind those trees,
gradations of green that take a stethoscope: we risk:
Length over width
                                  to make the horizon run straight
            to make the pond an oval:
                                                            over length minus the width
                              in which descending circles curl
into animals exact as a remainder.
                              Which means excess. The meaning of the real
always exceeds that of the ideal, said someone.
                                                                                      He was speaking of Vaux-le-Vicomte,
but it’s equally true of parking, or hunting, or wishing you could take it back. He
                              who is Allen Weiss, actually said, “The meaning
of a plastic or pictorial construct always surpasses the ideal meaning of that work.”
Which is something else entirely. Said
the axonometric
divided by
the anamorphic.
                               There is nothing that controls our thoughts
more than what we think we see,
which we label “we.”

Cole Swensen, “In a Garden of Numbers” from Ours (University of California Press, 2008).

Source: (University of California Press, )

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Poet Cole Swensen b. 1955

Subjects Activities, Gardening, Nature, Trees & Flowers

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 . . .

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SUBJECT Activities, Gardening, Nature, Trees & Flowers

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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