Sunday, February 11, 2007

After by Jane Hirshfield

Everyone in the northeastern corridor knows what a delightful train ride it is from Washington, DC to New York City on Amtrak. The trip isn’t too long but it is amply long to curl up with good books. One that I read on Friday afternoon on the way up to New York was Jane Hirshfield’s new book of poetry, After. I enjoy Hirshfield’s work, particularly the poem “For Horses, Horseflies” from Given Sugar, Given Salt. After is a strong book. Hirshfield has a sequence of poems that are “assays” on single words. She explores the meaning and function of these words in the poems, including sky, hope, tears, to, and other words. This is an ample collection with over ninety pages of poetry. The poems are not divided into sections; the poems proceed with great directness and clarity through the book. There are a few poems that are simply transcendent in this collection. One, “It was Like This: You Were Happy,” is the concluding poem of the book and I include it in it’s entirety below.

It was Like This: You Were Happy

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 think 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.

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