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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

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.

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

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 served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2012 to 2017.

by this poet

poem

If the gods bring to you
a strange and frightening creature,
accept the gift
as if it were one you had chosen.

Say the accustomed prayers,
oil the hooves well,
caress the small ears with praise.

Have the new halter of woven silver
embedded with jewels.
Spare no expense

2
poem

Let them not say:   we did not see it.
We saw.

Let them not say:   we did not hear it.
We heard.

Let them not say:     they did not taste it.
We ate, we trembled.

Let them not say:   it was not spoken, not written.
We spoke,
we witnessed with voices and

2
poem
At last understanding
that everything my friend had been saying
for the thirty-three months since he knew
were words of the dog tag, words of, whatever else, 
the milled and stamped-into metal of what stays behind.
Blackcap Mountain. Blue scorpion venom. Persimmon pudding.
He spoke them.
He could not say
2