A Well Runs Out of Thirst

- 1953-

A well runs out of thirst
the way time runs out of a week,
the way a country runs out of its alphabet
or a tree runs out of its height.
The way a brown pelican
runs out of anchovy-glitter at darkfall.

A strange collusion,
the way a year runs out of its days
but turns into another,
the way a cotton towel’s compact
with pot and plate seems to run out of dryness
but in a few minutes finds more.

A person comes into the kitchen
to dry the hands, the face,
to stand on the lip of a question.

Around the face, the hands,
behind the shoulders,
yeasts, mountains, mosses multiply answers.

There are questions that never run out of questions,
answers that don’t exhaust answer.

Take this question the person stands asking:
a gate rusting open.
Yes stands on its left, no on its right,
two big planets of unpainted silence.

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.