“This Morning, I Wanted Four Legs” by Jane Hirshfield

Nothing on two legs weighs much,
or can.
An elephant, a donkey, even a cookstove—
those legs, a person could stand on.
Two legs pitch you forward.
Two legs tire.
They look for another two legs to be with,
to move one set forward to music
while letting the other move back.
They want to carve into a tree trunk:
2gether 4ever.
Nothing on two legs can bark,
can whinny or chuff.
Tonight, though, everything’s different.
Tonight I want wheels.

 

Published in The New Yorker, July 2, 2012

“It Was Like This: You Were Happy” by Jane Hirshfield

It was like this:
you were happy, then you were sad,
then happy again, then not.

It went on.
You were innocent or you were guilty.
Actions were taken, or not.

At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.
Mostly, it seems you were silent—what could you say?

Now it is almost over.

Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.

It does this not in forgiveness—
between you, there is nothing to forgive—
but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.

Eating, too, is a thing now only for others.

It doesn’t matter what they will make of you
or your days: they will be wrong,
they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,
all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.

Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,
you slept, you awakened.
Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.

 

From After (Harper Perennial, 2006). Copyright © 2006 by Jane Hirshfield.

“Things Seem Strong” by Jane Hirshfield

Things seem strong.
Houses, trees, trucks—a chair, even.
A table.

You don’t expect one to break.
No, it takes a hammer to break one,
a war, a saw, an earthquake.

Troy after Troy after Troy seemed strong
to those living around and in them.
Nine Troys were strong,
each trembling under the other.

When the ground floods
and the fire ants leave their strong city,
they link legs and form a raft, and float, and live,
and begin again elsewhere.

Strong, your life’s wish
to continue linking arms with life’s eye blink, life’s tear well,
life’s hammering of copper sheets and planing of Port Orford cedar,
life’s joke of the knock-knock.

Knock, knock. Who’s there?
I am.
I am who?

That first and last question.

Who once dressed in footed pajamas,
who once was smothered in kisses.
Who seemed so strong
I could not imagine your mouth would ever come to stop asking.

 

Published at The New Yorker, Sep. 5, 2016

“Stay” by Jane Hirshfield

Stay, I said
to the cut flowers.
They bowed
their heads lower.

Stay, I said to the spider,
who fled.

Stay, leaf.
It reddened,
embarrassed for me and itself.

Stay, I said to my body.
It sat as a dog does,
obedient for a moment,
soon starting to tremble.

Stay, to the earth
of riverine valley meadows,
of fossiled escarpments,
of limestone and sandstone.
It looked back
with a changing expression, in silence.

Stay, I said to my loves.
Each answered,
Always.

Poem copyright ©2011 by Jane Hirshfield, from Come, Thief, Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.

Ms. Hirshfield has another poem titled “Stay” from her book After: Poems. We shared it here in June 2014.

“Three Times My Life Has Opened” by Jane Hirshfield (Reader Favorite)

Three times my life has opened.
Once, into darkness and rain.
Once, into what the body carries at all times within it and
starts to remember each time it enters the act of love.
Once, to the fire that holds all.
These three were not different.
You will recognize what I am saying or you will not.
But outside my window all day a maple has stepped
from her leaves like a woman in love with winter, dropping
the colored silks.
Neither are we different in what we know.
There is a door. It opens. Then it is closed. But a slip of
light stays, like a scrap of unreadable paper left on the floor,
or the one red leaf the snow releases in March.

– Jane Hirshfield, from The Lives of the Heart: Poems

 

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Many thanks to Archita for offering this as a favorite poem that we have previously shared on Words for the Year (on December 28, 2014). Archita shares her thoughts, poetry and photography at A Journey Called Life.