Friday, November 05, 2010

Given sugar, given salt

I want to go back once more to the poet Jane Hirshfield, to a poem called "Great Powers Once Raged Through Your Body," from her collection Given Sugar, Given Salt."

What remains? she asks.
A few words, your own or others'.
A freshened affection for silence and rest;
but also for lightning and wind,
familiar to you now as your own coat or shoes.
Ah, yes. Is the poet talking about herself? She is too young -- mid-fifties, at the peak of her powers -- to be asking for silence and rest, an affection more appropriate to my age cohort.

Raging powers, indeed. All a fading memory now. The world is simplified. Many things are reduced to few. Things that were once taken for granted now seem precious.
Chair, table, dishcloth, bowl --
each thing under your hand or your eyes
you regard now as ally, as friend.
Raging tamed to ritual. Each thing finds its rhythm, and keeps to it. The chair has its own time. The dishcloth its place. The great stir that was a font of creativity is quietened, the fires banked.
And yet this hard-won composure
feels already a little simple, a little meek --
like a painting
of yellow houses or fields, before
the narrow slashes of red have been riveted in.
That last image seems terribly familiar. I have no idea what painting, if any, the poet has in mind, but I think of Edward Hopper's Corn Hill: Truro, Cape Cod (1930), those yellow fields and the yellow houses in the high distance, silent, aloof. The weatherbeaten simplicity of it. The slant of light, the pooled dark. Morning? Evening? It's the same, really. And now I wait, for the slash of red.


(Click pic to enlarge. BTW, Corn Hill (the place) had a cameo role to play in American history.)