I first met Jane Hirshfield about fifteen years ago, after one of her readings in San Francisco. She reads her poems with intensity, but not loudly. Her voice is even, quiet. I was struck by the many tonalities of her silences. Still, there is a distinctly recognizable passion in her quiet moments. Speaking with her, I was fascinated by how much I was able to gather from the moments between her sentences, by the way those sentences follow one another, surprising at each turn. This is also true of her poems: reading her work, I catch myself thinking that Hirshfield is the poet who orchestrates silences, which is perhaps fitting for someone who says that her medium is lyric poetry. It isn’t easy these days to find a poet who can do this while being also perfectly articulate and clear. Reading Hirshfield, I find myself coming back to Mahmoud Darwish’s idea that clarity is our ultimate mystery.
For What Binds Us
BY JANE HIRSHFIELD
There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they’ve been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.
And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
than the simple, untested surface before.
There’s a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,
as all flesh,
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest—
And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.