If meat is put into the bowl, meat is eaten.
If rice is put into the bowl, it may be cooked.
If a shoe is put into the bowl,
the leather is chewed and chewed over,
a sentence that cannot be taken in or forgotten.
A day, if a day could feel, must feel like a bowl.
Wars, loves, trucks, betrayals, kindness,
it eats them.
Then the next day comes, spotless and hungry.
The bowl cannot be thrown away.
It cannot be broken.
It is calm, uneclipsable, rindless,
and, big though it seems, fits exactly in two human hands.
Hands with ten fingers,
capacities strange to us almost past measure.
Scented—as the curve of the bowl is—
with cardamom, star anise, long pepper, cinnamon, hyssop.
from Ledger (Knopf, 2020); first appeared in Brick. Used by permission of the author, all rights reserved.
As things grow rarer, they enter the ranges of counting.
Remain this many Siberian tigers,
that many African elephants. Three hundred red-legged egrets.
We scrape from the world its tilt and meander of wonder
as if eating the last burned onions and carrots from a cast iron pan.
Closing eyes to taste better the char of ordinary sweetness.
from Ledger (Knopf, 2020); first appeared in Washington Square. Used by permission of the author, all rights reserved.
I put on again the vest of many pockets.
It is easy to forget
which holds the reading glasses,
which the small pen,
which the house keys,
the compass and whistle, the passport.
To forget at last for weeks
even the pocket holding the day
of digging a place for my sister’s ashes,
the one holding the day
where someone will soon enough put my own.
To misplace the pocket
of touching the walls at Auschwitz
would seem impossible.
It is not.
To misplace, for a decade,
the pocket of tears.
I rummage and rummage—
for Munich, for Melbourne,
A receipt for a Singapore kopi.
A device holding music:
Bach, Garcia, Richter, Porter, Pärt.
A woman long dead now
gave me, when I told her I could not sing,
Now in a pocket.
Somewhere, a pocket
holding a Steinway.
Somewhere, a pocket
holding a packet of salt.
Oxford English Dictionary vest
with a magnifying glass
tucked inside one snapped-closed pocket,
Wikipedia vest, Rosetta vest,
Enigma vest of decoding,
how is it one person can carry
your weight for a lifetime,
slip into your open arms for a lifetime?
Who was given the world,
and hunted for tissues, for chapstick.
From Ledger (Knopf, 2020). First appeared in The Times Literary Supplement. Used by permission of the author. All rights reserved.
They have discovered, they say,
the protein of itch—
natriuretic polypeptide b—
and that it travels its own distinct pathway
inside my spine.
As do pain, pleasure, and heat.
A body it seems is a highway,
a cloverleaf crossing
well built, well traversed.
Some of me going north, some going south.
Ninety percent of my cells, they have discovered,
are not my own person,
they are other beings inside me.
As ninety-six percent of my life is not my life.
Yet I, they say, am they—
my bacteria and yeasts,
my father and mother,
my drivers talking on cell phones,
my subways and bridges,
my thieves, my police
who chase my self night and day.
My proteins, apparently also me,
fold the shirts.
I find in this crowded metropolis
a quiet corner,
where I build of not-me Lego blocks
pigeons, a sandwich
of rye bread, mustard, and cheese.
It is me and is not,
that makes the sandwich good.
It is not me then is,
a mystery neither of us
can fold, unfold, or consume.
Originally published in The Beauty (Knopf, 2015); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Used by permission of the author, all rights reserved.
you who once ached
with your own growing larger
absorbed by your own
When I danced,
When you broke,
And so it was lying down,
climbing the tiring stairs.
Your jaws. My bread.
what is left of you,
will be flensed of this marriage.
Angular wristbone's arthritis,
cracked harp of ribcage,
blunt of heel,
opened bowl of the skull,
twin platters of pelvis—
each of you will leave me behind,
at last serene.
What did I know of your days,
I who held you all my life
inside my hands
and thought they were empty?
You who held me all my life
inside your hands
as a new mother holds
her own unblanketed child,
not thinking at all.
Copyright © 2013 by Jane Hirshfield. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on October 14, 2013.
When his ship first came to Australia,
Cook wrote, the natives
continued fishing, without looking up.
Unable, it seems, to fear what was too large to be comprehended.
Originally published in After (HarperCollins, 2006); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
To such a request, the world is obliging.
In just the past week, a rotund porcupine,
who seemed equally startled by me.
The man who swallowed a tiny microphone
to record the sounds of his body,
not considering beforehand how he might remove it.
A cabbage and mustard sandwich on marbled bread.
How easily the large spiders were caught with a clear plastic cup
surprised even them.
I don’t know why I was surprised every time love started or ended.
Or why each time a new fossil, Earth-like planet, or war.
Or that no one kept being there when the doorknob had clearly.
What should not have been so surprising:
my error after error, recognized when appearing on the faces of others.
What did not surprise enough:
my daily expectation that anything would continue,
and then that so much did continue, when so much did not.
Small rivulets still flowing downhill when it wasn’t raining.
A sister’s birthday.
Also, the stubborn, courteous persistence.
That even today please means please,
good morning is still understood as good morning,
and that when I wake up,
the window’s distant mountain remains a mountain,
the borrowed city around me is still a city, and standing.
Its alleys and markets, offices of dentists,
drug store, liquor store, Chevron.
Its library that charges—a happy surprise—no fine for overdue books:
Borges, Baldwin, Szymborska, Morrison, Cavafy.
from Ledger (Knopf, 2020); first appeared in The New Yorker. Used by permission of the author, all rights reserved.
On the fifth day
the scientists who studied the rivers
were forbidden to speak
or to study the rivers.
The scientists who studied the air
were told not to speak of the air,
and the ones who worked for the farmers
and the ones who worked for the bees.
Someone, from deep in the Badlands,
began posting facts.
The facts were told not to speak
and were taken away.
The facts, surprised to be taken, were silent.
Now it was only the rivers
that spoke of the rivers,
and only the wind that spoke of its bees,
while the unpausing factual buds of the fruit trees
continued to move toward their fruit.
The silence spoke loudly of silence,
and the rivers kept speaking
of rivers, of boulders and air.
Bound to gravity, earless and tongueless,
the untested rivers kept speaking.
Bus drivers, shelf stockers,
code writers, machinists, accountants,
lab techs, cellists kept speaking.
They spoke, the fifth day,
from Ledger (Knopf, 2020); first appeared in The Washington Post. Used by permission of the author, all rights reserved.
Words are loyal.
Whatever they name they take the side of.
As the word courage will afterward grip just as well
the frightened girl soldier who stands on one side of barbed wire,
the frightened boy soldier who stands on the other.
Death’s clay, they look at each other with wide-open eyes.
And words—that love peace, love gossip—refuse to condemn them.
from Ledger (Knopf, 2020); first appeared in Plume. Used by permission of the author, all rights reserved.
A person protests to fate:
“The things you have caused
me most to want
are those that furthest elude me.”
Fate is sympathetic.
To tie the shoes, button a shirt,
for only the very young,
the very old.
During the long middle:
conjugating a rivet
training the cat to stay off the table
preserving a single moment longer than this one
continuing to wake whatever has happened the day before
and the penmanships love practices inside the body.
Copyright © 2015 by Jane Hirshfield. Used with permission of the author. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 24, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.