—after Lives of the Heart, by Jane Hirshfield
of the mind relinquished long ago their faux fur
and studded shoes, their tattoos and lacquers,
now their adequate bone mass and lubricated joints.
Cannot be used to heat a room, polish leather
or cut stone. Cast no shadow but think
they do. Have never lost themselves to passion
they never grasped anyway, squinting through
reading glasses and smoky footlights.
Are cracked plaster. Clogged gutters.
Seeds the birds have left behind.
Decals easy to peel from the hearts of those
who’ve tried to love them.
Every morning they wake startled
and inexplicably frightened. They push their
tailored, sexless, cooperative selves into
cubicles and conference rooms. They retain
no scent, can neither be traced nor followed,
can neither be made nor unmade.
Are more lucid in their sleep, which is shallow,
than over double-espresso in the sun.
Have no patience for fine print. Are creatures of habit
until a doctor reveals troubled maps inside them.
They clomp through the wildflowers and lush
grasses of August as though crossing hot asphalt
against traffic. None remain still enough to feel
a slow, secret ripening that could be theirs—
the nectar turning, beneath the thickened rind,
its stored sugars to the late October sun.
None let grief bow them down and have its way
before moving on. Every one of them pounds
and pounds at the walls of the one house
that won’t accept them, the one heart, the one
indifferent ear—willful, clenched, not knowing
they are tired, they throw themselves against
put aside the big questions
if we can have a few hours in thinned air
full of snow’s breathing,
full of trees breathing beneath
snow, the weight of winter
so entrenched, we can
feel the whole earth
stilled. And the mountain
seems to accept what we’ve
slashed into it, chainsaws
whining through summer air
so in winter we can claim a freedom
our bodies were not designed for.
We racket down its sides,
our inefficient uprightness
carried back up on cables drilled
into rock. Beneath the fiberglass
and metals, the custom-fitted plastics,
the graphics and pomp we clamp
to our fragile feet, the mountain
keeps a poise that resists
without rejecting us.
But if we’re willing to receive it
softly, through the fragile essence
of our feet, and open ourselves
to its dips and gullies, its glades,
its silence—if we are willing to absorb
the force of a solitude
that makes us disappear, the mountain
opens in us a third eye to find
the places that will let us fly
safely and land without breaking
our new contract with gravity—
we, whose young remain helpless
longer than young ermine or deer—
we whom gravity weights and slows
even in our prime—small wonder
we’re not extinct. The mountain,
though it remembers, allows us
to be gods for a time without doing harm.
When we pause at the near edge
of memory or invention and elect
not to venture further, we fail
to consider that invisible journeys, too,
leave dried mud and grass on our shoes;
that one can dream of waltzing with
a stranger, following every
subtle lead, and wake up happy
or be consoled by a fragrant loaf
mentioned briefly in a poem.
The vast bowl of the desert once held
an ocean we can borrow any time
we cup our minds around it like hands
around spinning clay. Once, I halted
on a winter street when I noticed the turquoise
stone had slipped from the center of my ring.
I reversed my steps and searched for hours,
peering downward for a bit of sky,
seeing every crevice in the dark pavement
for the first time, every sodden leaf
and twig. I fingered the empty bezel, sky
filling my mind. Luminous. Parachute of blue.
Author, Artist and Writing Consultant
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