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Poet-to-Poet: Jane Hirshfield, "My Skeleton"

About this Poem 

"Where the self begins and ends, what it is and isn’t, is a question that’s long been with me. There’s no objective measuring stick for metaphysical ponderings, but I’ve come to prefer thoughts that calibrate toward both realism and tenderness—toward life’s bite but also its dearness. I’ve also come to like poems with facts in them. Bone does, quite factually, reabsorb into the body as the growing pains of childhood turn into the diminishing bone mass that marks its other end. Self returns to non-self. But in between, neither quite one or the other, the skeleton is there, almost always ignored and invisible, every step and breath of the way."
—Jane Hirshfield

My Skeleton

Jane Hirshfield, 1953

My skeleton,
you who once ached
with your own growing larger

are now,
each year
imperceptibly smaller,
lighter,
absorbed by your own
concentration.

When I danced,
you danced.
When you broke,
I.

And so it was lying down,
walking,
climbing the tiring stairs.
Your jaws. My bread.

Someday you,
what is left of you,
will be flensed of this marriage.

Angular wristbone's arthritis,
cracked harp of ribcage,
blunt of heel,
opened bowl of the skull,
twin platters of pelvis—
each of you will leave me behind,
at last serene.

What did I know of your days,
your nights,
I who held you all my life
inside my hands
and thought they were empty?

You who held me all my life
inside your hands
as a new mother holds
her own unblanketed child,
not thinking at all.

Copyright © 2013 by Jane Hirshfield. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on October 14, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Copyright © 2013 by Jane Hirshfield. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on October 14, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield was born in New York City on February 24, 1953.

by this poet

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I say I
&
a small mosquito drinks from my tongue

but many say we and hear I
say you or he and
hear I

what can we do with this problem

a bowl held in both hands
cannot be filled by its holder

x, says the blue whale
x, say the krill

2
poem

A person protests to fate:

“The things you have caused
me most to want
are those that furthest elude me.”

Fate nods.
Fate is sympathetic.

To tie the shoes, button a shirt,
are triumphs
for only the very young,
the very old.

During the long middle:

poem

A librarian in Calcutta and an entomologist in Prague
sign their moon-faced illicit emails,
“ton entanglée.”

No one can explain it.
The strange charm between border collie and sheep,
leaf and wind, the two distant electrons.

There is, too, the matter of a horse race.

2