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Hirshfield is unsurpassed in her ability to sink into a moment’s essence and exchange something of herself with its finite music—and then, in seemingly simple, inevitable words, to deliver that exchange to us in poems that vibrate with form and expression perfectly united. Hirshfield’s poems of ...
Hirshfield is unsurpassed in her ability to sink into a moment’s essence and exchange something of herself with its finite music—and then, in seemingly simple, inevitable words, to deliver that exchange to us in poems that vibrate with form and expression perfectly united. Hirshfield’s poems of discovery, acknowledgment of the difficult, and praise turn always toward deepening comprehension. Here we encounter the stealth of feeling’s arrival (“as some strings, untouched, / sound when a near one is speaking. / So it was when love slipped inside us”), an anatomy of solitude (“wrong solitude vinegars the soul, / right solitude oils it”), a reflection on perishability and the sweetness its acceptance invites into our midst (“How suddenly then / the strange happiness took me, / like a man with strong hands and strong mouth”), and a muscular, unblindfolded awareness of our shared political and planetary fate.
To read these startlingly true poems is to find our own feelings eloquently ensnared. Whether delving into intimately familiar moments or bringing forward some experience until now outside words, Hirshfield finds for each face of our lives its metamorphosing portrait, its particular, memorable, singing and singular name.
Love in August
White moths against the screen in August darkness.
Some clamor in envy.
Some spread large as two hands of a thief
who wants to put back in your cupboard the long-taken silver.
For a few days only,
the plum tree outside the window
No matter the plums will be small,
eaten only by squirrels and jays.
I feast on the one thing, they on another,
the shoaling bees on a third.
What in this unpleated world isn’t someone’s seduction?
The boy playing his intricate horn in Mahler’s Fifth,
in the gaps between playing,
turns it and turns it, dismantles a section,
shakes from it the condensation
of human passage. He is perhaps twenty.
Later he takes his four bows, his face deepening red,
while a girl holds a viola’s spruce wood and maple
in one -half--opened hand and looks at him hard.
Let others clap.
These two, their ears still ringing, hear nothing.
Not the shouts of bravo, bravo,
not the timpanic clamor inside their bodies.
As the plum’s blossoms do not hear the bee
nor taste themselves turned into storable honey
by that sumptuous disturbance.
"First Light Edging Cirrus"
to call wood thrush 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.
So 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.
There is a moment before a shape
hardens, a color sets.
Before the fixative or heat of kiln.
The letter might still be taken
from the mailbox.
The hand held back by the elbow,
the word kept between the larynx pulse
and the amplifying -drum--skin of the room’s air.
The thorax of an ant is not as narrow.
The green coat on old copper weighs more.
Yet something slips through it—
sets out in the new direction, for other lands.
Not into exile, not into hope. Simply changed.
As a sandy -track--rut changes when called a Silk Road:
it cannot be after turned back from.
"Vinegar and Oil"
Wrong solitude vinegars the soul,
right solitude oils it.
How fragile we are, between the few good moments.
Coming and going unfinished,
puzzled by fate,
like the -half--carved relief
of a fallen donkey, above a church door in Finland.
"The Tongue Says Loneliness"
The tongue says loneliness, anger, grief,
but does not feel them.
As Monday cannot feel Tuesday,
reach back to Wednesday
as a mother reaches out for her found child.
As this life is not a gate, but the horse plunging through it.
Not a bell,
but the sound of the bell in the -bell--shape,
lashing full strength with the first blow from inside the iron.
Excerpted from Come, Thief by Jane Hirshfield Copyright © 2011 by Jane Hirshfield. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
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Posted February 18, 2013
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