Rebus

By Jane Hirshfield b. 1953 Jane Hirshfield
You work with what you are given,
the red clay of grief,
the black clay of stubbornness going on after.   
Clay that tastes of care or carelessness,
clay that smells of the bottoms of rivers or dust.

Each thought is a life you have lived or failed to live,   
each word is a dish you have eaten or left on the table.   
There are honeys so bitter
no one would willingly choose to take them.
The clay takes them: honey of weariness, honey of vanity,   
honey of cruelty, fear.

This rebus—slip and stubbornness,
bottom of river, my own consumed life—
when will I learn to read it
plainly, slowly, uncolored by hope or desire?   
Not to understand it, only to see.

As water given sugar sweetens, given salt grows salty,   
we become our choices.
Each yes, each no continues,
this one a ladder, that one an anvil or cup.

The ladder leans into its darkness.   
The anvil leans into its silence.   
The cup sits empty.

How can I enter this question the clay has asked?

Jane Hirshfield, “Rebus” from Given Sugar, Given Salt. Copyright © 2001 by Jane Hirshfield. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source: Given Sugar Given Salt (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 2001)

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Poet Jane Hirshfield b. 1953

Subjects Living, Sorrow & Grieving

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Jane  Hirshfield

Biography

Award-winning poet, essayist, and translator Jane Hirshfield is the author of several collections of verse, including Come, Thief (2011), After (2006), shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot prize, and Given Sugar, Given Salt (2001), a finalist for the National Book Critics Award, among others. Hirshfield has also translated the work of early women poets in collections such as The Ink Dark Moon: Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Sorrow & Grieving

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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