Let Them Not Say
Let them not say: we did not see it.
Let them not say: we did not hear it.
Let them not say: they did not taste it.
We ate, we trembled.
Let them not say: it was not spoken, not written.
we witnessed with voices and hands.
Let them not say: they did nothing.
We did not-enough.
Let them say, as they must say something:
A kerosene beauty.
Let them say we warmed ourselves by it,
read by its light, praised,
and it burned.
I put on again the vest of many pockets.
It is easy to forget
which holds the reading glasses,
which the small pen,
which the house keys,
the compass and whistle, the passport.
To forget at last for weeks
even the pocket holding the day
of digging a place for my sister’s ashes,
the one holding the day
where someone will soon enough put my own.
To misplace the pocket
of touching the walls at Auschwitz
would seem impossible.
It is not.
To misplace, for a decade,
the pocket of tears.
I rummage and rummage—
for Munich, for Melbourne,
A receipt for a Singapore kopi.
A device holding music:
Bach, Garcia, Richter, Porter, Pärt.
A woman long dead now
gave me, when I told her I could not sing,
Now in a pocket.
Somewhere, a pocket
holding a Steinway.
Somewhere, a pocket
holding a packet of salt.
Oxford English Dictionary vest
with a magnifying glass
tucked inside one snapped-closed pocket,
Wikipedia vest, Rosetta vest,
Enigma vest of decoding,
how is it one person can carry
your weight for a lifetime,
slip into your open arms for a lifetime?
Who was given the world,
and hunted for tissues, for chapstick.
She Breathes In The Scent
As the front of a box would miss the sides,
the grief of the living
misses the grief of the dead.
like a woman who goes to the airport
to meet the planes from a country she long ago lived in.
She knows no passenger but stands near as they exit
still holding their passports.
She breathes in the scent of their clothes.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
I am back in my childhood apartment.
Someone above is sleepless, again.
I too am now awake, sleepless.
How uncomfortably we went on together,
intimate and unmarried:
Sometimes a different sound,
a jar of spilled marbles.
More often: thump.
that seemed then forever.
Though tonight it is only me.
My own frightened heartbeat,
my own once-childhood country.
The way the high-wire walker
must carry a pole
to make her arms longer
you carried me I carried you
through this world.
These poems are drawn from Jane Hirshfield’s essential new book LEDGER (Knopf, 2020). Hirshfield is the author of nine books of poetry. Her work appears in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, Poetry, and ten editions of The Best American Poems. She is also the author of two now-classic books of essays, NINE GATES and TEN WINDOWS, and four books collecting and co-translating world poets from the past. A former chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, she was elected in 2019 into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.