“A Partial History of My Stupidity” by Edward Hirsch

Traffic was heavy coming off the bridge
and I took the road to the right, the wrong one,
and got stuck in the car for hours.

Most nights I rushed out into the evening
without paying attention to the trees,
whose names I didn’t know,
or the birds, which flew heedlessly on.

I couldn’t relinquish my desires
or accept them, and so I strolled along
like a tiger that wanted to spring
but was still afraid of the wildness within.

The iron bars seemed invisible to others,
but I carried a cage around inside me.

I cared too much what other people thought
and made remarks I shouldn’t have made.
I was silent when I should have spoken.

Forgive me philosophers,
I read the Stoics but never understood them.

I felt that I was living the wrong life,
spiritually speaking,
while halfway around the world
thousands of people were being slaughtered,
some of them by my countrymen.

So I walked on–distracted, lost in thought–
and forgot to attend to those who suffered
far away, nearby.

Forgive me, faith, for never having any.

I did not believe in God,
who eluded me.

“A Partial History of My Stupidity” by Edward Hirsch from Special Orders, Knopf.

Read a 2008 transcript of Hirsch discussing his book with Andrea Seabrook of NPR.


“Fall” by Edward Hirsch

Fall, falling, fallen. That’s the way the season
Changes its tense in the long-haired maples
That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves
Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition
With the final remaining cardinals) and then
Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last
Settling into colorful layers carpeting the ground.
At twilight the light, too, is layered in the trees
In a season of odd, dusky congruences—a scarlet tanager
And the odor of burning leaves, a golden retriever
Loping down the center of a wide street and the sun
Setting behind smoke-filled trees in the distance,
A gap opening up in the treetops and a bruised cloud
Blamelessly filling the space with purples. Everything
Changes and moves in the split second between summer’s
Sprawling past and winter’s hard revision, one moment
Pulling out of the station according to schedule,
Another moment arriving on the next platform. It
Happens almost like clockwork: the leaves drift away
From their branches and gather slowly at our feet,
Sliding over our ankles, and the season begins moving
Around us even as its colorful weather moves us,
Even as it pulls us into its dusty, twilit pockets.
And every year there is a brief, startling moment
When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and
Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless
Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air:
It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies;
It is the changing light of fall falling on us.

From Wild Gratitude by Edward Hirsch Copyright © 1986 by Edward Hirsch.

“In Spite of Everything, the Stars” by Edward Hirsch

Like a stunned piano, like a bucket
of fresh milk flung into the air
or a dozen fists of confetti
thrown hard at a bride
stepping down from the altar,
the stars surprise the sky.
Think of dazed stones
floating overhead, or an ocean
of starfish hung up to dry. Yes,
like a conductor’s expectant arm
about to lift toward the chorus,
or a juggler’s plates defying gravity,
or a hundred fastballs fired at once
and freezing in midair, the stars
startle the sky over the city.

And that’s why drunks leaning up
against abandoned buildings, women
hurrying home on deserted side streets,
policemen turning blind corners, and
even thieves stepping from alleys
all stare up at once. Why else do
sleepwalkers move toward the windows,
or old men drag flimsy lawn chairs
onto fire escapes, or hardened criminals
press sad foreheads to steel bars?
Because the night is alive with lamps!
That’s why in dark houses all over the city
dreams stir in the pillows, a million
plumes of breath rise into the sky.

Edward Hirsch


“Stars Fell on Alabama” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

“Still Life: An Argument” by Edward Hirsch

Listen, it only takes a moment
to move, to knot ourselves
together like the ends of a rope
longing to be knotted together,

but let’s avoid it, let’s wait.
Ropes, even the sturdiest ropes,
pull, they strain, struggle, eventually
they break. But think of it;

in a still life a knife
pauses above a platter of
meat, it only takes a second, and
poof it becomes the idea of a knife,

the drawing of a knife suspended
in the air like a guillotine
about to weightlessly drop on the
neck of a murderer and send him

shrieking into oblivion forever,
but it never happens, the knife
keeps falling and falling, but never
falls. That knife could be us.

The milk on the table is always
about to spill, the meat could be
encased in wax paper to be
protected from flies, but it’s

not, it’s unnecessary, the flies
threaten to descend on the
exposed meat, but they can’t, they’re
no longer flies, but a painting of flies,

the blood pooled on the platter
of meat never evaporates, it can’t;
look, it’s still there; and if I
never touch you, well then, we never die.

Listen, even lovers have still lives,
have whole months when they hang
together like moths on an unlit
light bulb, waiting for the bulb to light,

but if it never does then the moths
survive, meat should be allowed
to sit on the table forever
without being devoured by flies

and if that’s not possible, well
then we still have this picture,
the still life not of how it will be,
but of how it was, for the knife and the meat

and the flies, and for us the night we
hesitated together. From now on, love,
we will always be about to destroy
each other, always about to touch.

—   “Still Life: An Argument” by Edward Hirsch