I wanted to be surprised.
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.
Jane Hirshfield is the author of eight collections of poetry, includingThe Beauty: Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), which was long listed for the National Book Award. She served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2012 to 2017.
Date Published: 2020-03-10
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/i-wanted-be-surprised