First Light Edging Cirrus

- 1953-
1025 molecules
are enough 
to call woodthrush or apple.

A hummingbird, fewer.
A wristwatch: 1024.

An alphabet's molecules,
tasting of honey, iron, and salt,
cannot be counted—

as some strings, untouched,
sound when a near one is speaking.

As it was when love slipped inside us.
It looked out face to face in every direction.

Then it was inside the tree, the rock, the cloud.

More by Jane Hirshfield

A Hand

A hand is not four fingers and a thumb.

Nor is it palm and knuckles,
not ligaments or the fat's yellow pillow,
not tendons, star of the wristbone, meander of veins.

A hand is not the thick thatch of its lines
with their infinite dramas,
nor what it has written,
not on the page,
not on the ecstatic body.

Nor is the hand its meadows of holding, of shaping—
not sponge of rising yeast-bread,
not rotor pin's smoothness,
not ink.

The maple's green hands do not cup
the proliferant rain.
What empties itself falls into the place that is open.

A hand turned upward holds only a single, transparent question.

Unanswerable, humming like bees, it rises, swarms, departs.

Waking the Morning Dreamless After Long Sleep

But with the sentence: "Use your failures for paper." Meaning, I understood, the backs of failed poems, but also my life. Whose far side I begin now to enter— A book imprinted without seeming season, each blank day bearing on its reverse, in random order, the mad-set type of another. December 12, 1960. April 4, 1981. 13th of August, 1974— Certain words bleed through to the unwritten pages. To call this memory offers no solace. "Even in sleep, the heavy millstones turning." I do not know where the words come from, what the millstones, where the turning may lead. I, a woman forty-five, beginning to gray at the temples, putting pages of ruined paper into a basket, pulling them out again.

Late Self-Portrait by Rembrandt

The dog, dead for years, keeps coming back in the dream.
We look at each other there with the old joy.
It was always her gift to bring me into the present—

Which sleeps, changes, awakens, dresses, leaves.

Happiness and unhappiness
differ as a bucket hammered from gold differs from one of pressed tin,
this painting proposes.

Each carries the same water, it says.

Related Poems

Night on the Great River [three translations]

(I)

Steering my little boat towards a misty islet,
I watch the sun descend while my sorrows grow:
In the vast night the sky hangs lower than the treetops,
But in the blue lake the moon is coming close.

[translated by William Carlos Williams]

(II)

Night on the Great River

We anchor the boat alongside a hazy island.
As the sun sets I am overwhelmed with nostalgia.
The plain stretches away without limit.
The sky is just above the tree tops.
The river flows quietly by.
The moon comes down amongst men.

[translated by Kenneth Rexroth]

(III)

Mooring on Chien-te River

The boat rocks at anchor by the misty island
Sunset, my loneliness comes again.
In these vast wilds the sky arches down to the trees.
In the clear river water, the moon draws near.

[translated by Gary Snyder]