Thursday, August 22, 2013

Poems by Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield (born 24 February 1953) is an American poet, essayist, and translator. Hirshfield's seven books of poetry have each received numerous awards. Her fifth book, Given Sugar, Given Salt, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and her sixth collection, After, was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize (UK) and named a 'best book of 2006' by The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the Financial Times. Presenting some poems.

It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.
Even in this
one lifetime,
you will have to choose.
That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books -
Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.
The Task
It is a simple garment, this slipped-on world.
We wake into it daily - open eyes, braid hair - 
a robe unfurled
in rose-silk flowering, then laid bare.
And yes, it is a simple enough task
we've taken on,
though also vast:
from dusk to dawn,
from dawn to dusk, to praise, and not
be blinded by the praising.
To lie like a cat in hot
sun, fur fully blazing,
and dream the mouse;
and to keep too the mouse's patient, waking watch
within the deep rooms of the house,
where the leaf-flocked
sunlight never reaches, but the earth still blooms.
The Heart's Counting Knows Only One
In Sung China,
two monks friends for sixty years
watched the geese pass.
Where are they going? 
one tested the other, who couldn't say.
That moment's silence continues.
No one will study their friendship
in the koan-books of insight.
No one will remember their names.
I think of them sometimes,
standing, perplexed by sadness,
goose-down sewn into their quilted autumn robes.
Almost swallowed by the vastness of the mountains,
but not yet.
As the barely audible
geese are not yet swallowed; 
as even we, my love, will not entirely be lost.
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.
The Weighing
The heart's reasons
seen clearly,
even the hardest
will carry
its whip-marks and sadness
and must be forgiven.
As the drought-starved
eland forgives
the drought-starved lion
who finally takes her,
enters willingly then
the life she cannot refuse,
and is lion, is fed,
and does not remember the other.
So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.
The world asks of us
only the strength we have and we give it.
Then it asks more, and we give it.
The Envoy
One day in that room, a small rat.
Two days later, a snake.
Who, seeing me enter,
whipped the long stripe of his
body under the bed,
then curled like a docile house-pet.
I don't know how either came or left.
Later, the flashlight found nothing.
For a year I watched
as something - terror? happiness? grief? - 
entered and then left my body.
No knowing how it came in.
Not knowing how it went out.
It hung where words could not reach it.
It slept where light could not go.
Its scent was neither snake nor rat,
neither sensualist nor ascetic.
There are openings in our lives
of which we know nothing.
Through them
the belled herds travel at will,
long-legged and thirsty, covered with foreign dust.
You work with what you are given,
the red clay of grief,
the black clay of stubbornness going on after. 
Clay that tastes of care or carelessness,
clay that smells of the bottoms of rivers or dust.
Each thought is a life you have lived or failed to live, 
each word is a dish you have eaten or left on the table. 
There are honeys so bitter
no one would willingly choose to take them.
The clay takes them: honey of weariness, honey of vanity, 
honey of cruelty, fear.
This rebus - slip and stubbornness,
bottom of river, my own consumed life - 
when will I learn to read it
plainly, slowly, uncolored by hope or desire? 
Not to understand it, only to see.
As water given sugar sweetens, given salt grows salty, 
we become our choices.
Each yes, each no continues,
this one a ladder, that one an anvil or cup.
The ladder leans into its darkness. 
The anvil leans into its silence. 
The cup sits empty.
How can I enter this question the clay has asked?
Some stories last many centuries,
others only a moment.
All alter over that lifetime like beach-glass,
grow distant and more beautiful with salt.
Yet even today, to look at a tree
and ask the story Who are you? is to be transformed.
There is a stage in us where each being, each thing, is a mirror.
Then the bees of self pour from the hive-door,
ravenous to enter the sweetness of flowering nettles and thistle.
Next comes the ringing a stone or violin or empty bucket
gives off - 
the immeasurable's continuous singing,
before it goes back into story and feeling.
In Borneo, there are palm trees that walk on their high roots.
Slowly, with effort, they lift one leg then another.
I would like to join that stilted transmigration,
to feel my own skin vertical as theirs:
an ant-road, a highway for beetles.
I would like not minding, whatever travels my heart.
To follow it all the way into leaf-form, bark-furl, root-touch,
and then keep walking, unimaginably further.

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