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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, February 29, 2016.
About this Poem 

“Behind this poem, written February 29, 2012, was the death of a friend. I had, months before, brought her the present of a traditional bamboo-slat painted reproduction of a famous Chinese painting. She had commented, with her customary inhabitance of all things from the inside, how hard it is to paint a cow so well from the front. Her death was unexpected, and a letter from her I had not wanted to put away was still out on my kitchen table. My year’s extra day circled around it.”
—Jane Hirshfield

February 29

An extra day—

Like the painting’s fifth cow,
who looks out directly,
straight toward you,
from inside her black and white spots.

An extra day—

Accidental, surely:
the made calendar stumbling over the real
as a drunk trips over a threshold
too low to see.

An extra day—

With a second cup of black coffee.
A friendly but businesslike phone call.
A mailed-back package.
Some extra work, but not too much—
just one day’s worth, exactly.

An extra day—

Not unlike the space
between a door and its frame
when one room is lit and another is not,
and one changes into the other
as a woman exchanges a scarf.

An extra day—

Extraordinarily like any other.
And still
there is some generosity to it,
like a letter re-readable after its writer has died.

Excerpted from The Beauty by Jane Hirshfield. Copyright © 2015 by Jane Hirshfield. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Excerpted from The Beauty by Jane Hirshfield. Copyright © 2015 by Jane Hirshfield. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield is the author of eight collections of poetry, includingThe Beauty: Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), which was long listed for the National Book Award. She currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

poem
1025 molecules
are enough 
to call woodthrush or apple.

A hummingbird, fewer.
A wristwatch: 1024.

An alphabet's molecules,
tasting of honey, iron, and salt,
cannot be counted—

as some strings, untouched,
sound when a near one is speaking.

As it was when love slipped inside us.
It looked out face to face in
poem

In nature, molecules are chiral—they turn in one direction or the other. Naturally then, someone wondered: might sugar, built to mirror itself, be sweet, but pass through the body unnoticed? A dieters’ gold mine. I don’t know why the experiment failed, or how. I think of the loneliness of that man-made substance,

2
poem
A hand is not four fingers and a thumb.

Nor is it palm and knuckles,
not ligaments or the fat's yellow pillow,
not tendons, star of the wristbone, meander of veins.

A hand is not the thick thatch of its lines
with their infinite dramas,
nor what it has written,
not on the page,
not on the ecstatic body.

Nor