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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.

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The quiet opening
between fence strands
perhaps eighteen inches.

Antlers to hind hooves,
four feet off the ground,
the deer poured through.

No tuft of the coarse white belly hair left behind.

I don't know how a stag turns
into a stream, an arc of water.
I have never

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There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they've been set down—

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They have discovered, they say,
the protein of itch—
natriuretic polypeptide b—
and that it travels its own distinct pathway
inside my spine.
As do pain, pleasure, and heat.

A body it seems is a highway,
a cloverleaf crossing
well built, well traversed.
Some of me going

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