Recycling Center

By Brenda Hillman b. 1951 Brenda Hillman
The labeled bins on the California hillside
catch the glint and quarter-glint of passing cars.
Families pull up with their interesting trash
and start unloading: Here, sweetheart,
this goes over in Newspaper. The bundle
hits with a thud. Diet soda cans
spin almost noiselessly down, and the sun-
permitting bottles from a day’s pleasure
are tossed into Mixed Glass by the children
who like to hear the smash, unknowable, chaotic,
as matter greets itself and starts to change.

What mystery is inside a thing! If we peered
into the bin, we could see it waiting there,
could believe everything is alive and specific
and personal, could tell by the tilt of one
bottle against the next that it’s difficult
to be singular, to have identity, to keep
an outline safe in the terrors of space.
Even the child knows this. Bye, bottle! she shouts,
tossing it in; and the bottle lies there
in the two o’clock position, temporarily itself,
before being swept into the destiny of mixture. . .

And what if some don’t want to. What if some items
in the piles of paper, the orange and blue
envelopes from a magazine sweepstakes, numbers
pressing through the cloudy windows
with our names, some among those pale sheets curled
with moisture, would rather stay as they are.
It’s spring; we’ve thrown away mistakes—
tax forms, recipes, tennis-ball-sized
drafts of poems—that which was blank
shall be made blank again—but what if
that failed letter wants to be a failure,
not go back to pulp, and thought .. .
Or across the parking lot, where light insists
on changing the dull cans, a few cans don’t want
to be changed, though they should want to,
shouldn’t they, should want to be changed
by light, light which is called sweet reason,
honeyed, spectra, magnitude, light that goes
from the parking lot looking helpless
though it is matter that has been betrayed. . .

All afternoon the bins are carried off
by those who know about where things should go,
who are used to the clatter the cans make,
pouring out; and the families, who believed change
would heal them are pulling away in their vans,
slightly embarrassed by that which refused . . .
The bins fill again with hard substances,
the hills bear down with their fugitive gold,
the pampas grass bending low to protect
what was briefly certain and alive with hope.

Brenda Hillman, “Recycling Center” from Bright Existence. Copyright © 1993 by Brenda Hillman. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: Bright Existence (Wesleyan University Press, 1993)

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Poet Brenda Hillman b. 1951


Subjects Time & Brevity, Living, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Brenda  Hillman


One of contemporary poetry’s most eclectic and formally innovative writers, Brenda Hillman is known for poems that draw on elements of found texts and document, personal meditation, observation, and literary theory. Often described as “sensuous” and “luminescent,” Hillman’s poetry investigates and pushes at the possibilities of form and voice, while remaining grounded in topics such as geology, the environment, politics, family, . . .

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SUBJECT Time & Brevity, Living, Social Commentaries


Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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