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Jane Hirshfield – Ⅳ

Shadow: An Assay 





Mostly we do not think of, even see you,


for your powers at first seem few.


Why command “Heel,” ask “Sit,”

when before the thought is conceived,

you are already there?


True that sometimes you run ahead, sometimes behind,

that early and late,

to you, must be words of the deepest poignance:

while inside them, you are larger than you were.


Midday drives you to reticence, sulking,

a silence

I’ve felt many times inside me as well.


You came with me to Krakow, Glasgow, Corfu.

Did you enjoy them?

I never asked.

Though however close my hand came to the table,

you were closer, touching before my tongue

the herring and cheeses, the turpentine-scented retsina.


Many times I have seen you sacrifice yourself

without hesitation,

disentangling yourself like Anna Karenina from her purse

before passing under the train wheels of her own thoughts.

Like art, though, you are resilient: you rose again.


Are you then afterlife, clutterless premonition?

You shake your head as soon as I do—

no, we think not.

Whatever earth I will vanish silently into, you also will join.


You carry, I have read,

my rages, fears, and self-regard.

You carry, I have read, my unrevealed longings,

and the monster dreamed as a child, tongueless and armless.

Your ordinary loneliness I recognize too as my own.


When you do not exist,

I have gone with you into darkness,


as the self of a former life

goes into the self that was tortured and beaten

and does not emerge again as it was,

though given a clean shirt to leave in, given pants and new shoes.


For this too is shadow, and mine,

however unspoken:

though you are tongueless, and armless, you harm.

Your inaction my own deepest failure, close by my side.


You who take nothing, give nothing, instruct me,

that my fate may weigh more than yours—


The hour is furious, late.

Your reach, horizontal, distant, leans almost forgiving,

almost indistinguishable from what it crosses.