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Sybarite and Stoic, Both
on August 29, 2011
Jane Hirshfield's poems manage to be voluptuous and stoic at the same time. In her latest, she runs out naked in the sun, sells her grandfather's gold watch to be melted down, touches the falling face of an old lover, eats an egg, runs out naked in the rain. But even as she shouts *more* to the sensual world, she knows she will lose, if she hasn't already lost, what she savors. That doesn't stop her from tasting, or yearning, or noticing.
As she moves into her 50s, some of these poems address loss via aging and the deaths of friends -- unless I'm just noticing them more for my own reasons.
Here is her precise image of the fraying mind of a well-educated friend with Alzheimer's: "When a fine old carpet/is eaten by mice/ the colors and patterns/of what's left behind/ do not change."
Here is a short poem in its entirety called
"When hearing went, you spoke more.
Now I must."
She's also a smart thinker. She has been my favorite contemporary poet since I read "For What Binds Us," a declaration of pride in the scars left by love. Reading her subtle, spare, yet quietly ecstatic work sharpens my own thinking and writing. I took this book to bed with me and read poem after poem. Here is an excerpt from one of the last poems in "Come Thief" that seems almost like a bookend to "For What Binds Us."
"A Hand is Shaped for What It Holds or Makes":
....Beloved, grown old separately, your face
shows me the changes on my own.
I see the histories it holds, the argument it makes
against the thresh of trees, the racing clouds, the race
of birds and sky birds always lose:
the lines have ranged, but not the cheek's strong bone.
My fingers touching there recall that place.
Once we were one. Then what time did, and hands, erased
us from the future we had owned.
For some, the future holds what hands release, not make....
Wasps leave their nest. Wind takes the papery case.
Our wooden house, less easily undone,
now houses others. A life is shaped by what it holds or makes.
I make these words for what they can't replace.