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Poem: Practice

From our poet of the month: Jane Hirshfield

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“Poems soften fear’s fixities and despair’s immobility, return the heart-mind to openness and the possibility for change that come with the knowledge of interconnection and shared fate.”

Practice

I touch my toes.

When I was a child,
this was difficult.
Now I touch my toes daily.

In 2012, in Sanford, Florida, 
someone nearby was touching her toes before bed.

Three weeks ago, 
in the Philippines or Myanmar, someone was stretching.

Tomorrow, someone elsewhere will bend 
first to one side, then the other.

I also do ten push-ups, morning and evening.

Women’s push-ups, 
from the knees.
They resemble certain forms of religious bowing.

In place of one, two, four, seven, 
I count the names of incomprehension: Sanford, Ferguson, Charleston. 
Aleppo, Sarajevo, Nagasaki.

I never reach: Troy, Ur

I have done this for years now.
Bystander, listener. One of the lucky.
I do not seem to grow stronger.

Excerpted from Ledger by Jane Hirshfield. Copyright © 2020 by Jane Hirshfield. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Listen to Jane Hirshfield read “Practice.”

Jane Hirshfield shared her insight with S&H:

I can’t say how a poem can offer a useful reply to the crises of biosphere and justice we now know and live through. How can poetic language serve actual hunger, address actual damage? 

Yet poems do feel, to me, if not “answers,” responses that are grounding, are saving. Poems soften fear’s fixities and despair’s immobility, return the heart-mind to openness and the possibility for change that come with the knowledge of interconnection and shared fate.                 


About the Author

Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield is the author of nine books of poetry and has edited and co-translated four books presenting the work of world poets from the past. Her books have received the Poetry Center Book Award, the California Book Award, and the Donald Hal-Jane Kenyon Prize in American Poetry. Her poems appear in a wide range of outlets. A resident of Northern California, she is a chancellor emerita of the Academy of American Poets.

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