Hope is the hardest love we carry

Dear readers,

Here are two poems by the wonderful Ada Limón and Jane Hirshfield that I’m holding close to my heart as we enter a new year amidst a continually harrowing time, with shared heron imagery illustrated by my dear friend Kristina Closs. I’ve posted Ada’s poem before, but it’s become a touchstone for me over the years, and so I wanted to share it again.

Take care of yourselves, friends, and of each other. Here’s hoping for better days ahead and enduring reminders of the beauty that persists even in the darkest times.

Art by Kristina Closs

Hope and Love
by Jane Hirshfield

All winter
the blue heron
slept among the horses.
I do not know
the custom of herons,
do not know
if the solitary habit
is their way,
or if he listened for
some missing one—
not knowing even
that was what he did—
in the blowing
sounds in the dark,
I know that
hope is the hardest
love we carry.
He slept
with his long neck
folded, like a letter
put away.

____________

The Great Blue Heron of Dunbar Road
by Ada Limón

That we might walk out into the woods together,
and afterwards make toast
in our sock feet, still damp from the fern’s
wet grasp, the spiky needles stuck to our
legs, that’s all I wanted, the dog in the mix,
jam sometimes, but not always. But somehow,
I’ve stopped praising you. How the valley
when you first see it—the small roads back
to your youth—is so painfully pretty at first,
then, after a month of black coffee, it’s just
another place your bullish brain exists, bothered
by itself and how hurtful human life can be.
Isn’t that how it is? You wake up some days
full of crow and shine, and then someone
has put engine coolant in the medicine
on another continent and not even crying
helps cure the idea of purposeful poison.
What kind of woman am I? What kind of man?
I’m thinking of the way my stepdad got sober,
how he never told us, just stopped drinking
and sat for a long time in the low folding chair
on the Bermuda grass reading and sometimes
soaking up the sun like he was the story’s only
subject. When he drove me to school, we decided
it would be a good day, if we saw the blue heron
in the algae-covered pond next to the road,
so that if we didn’t see it, I’d be upset. Then,
he began to lie. To tell me he’d seen it when
he hadn’t, or to suppose that it had just
taken off when we rounded the corner in
the gray car that somehow still ran, and I
would lie, too, for him. I’d say I saw it.
Heard the whoosh of wings over us.
That’s the real truth. What we told each other
to help us through the day: the great blue heron
was there, even when the pond dried up,
or froze over; it was there because it had to be.
Just now, I felt like I wanted to be alone
for a long time, in a folding chair on the lawn
with all my private agonies, but then I saw you
and the way you’re hunching over your work
like a puzzle, and I think even if I fail at everything,
I still want to point out the heron like I was taught,
still want to slow the car down to see the thing
that makes it all better, the invisible gift,
what we see when we stare long enough into nothing.

We came to transmit the shimmering from which we came

The brilliant Arab-American poet and visual artist Etel Adnan (1925-2021) passed away today at the age of 96. Adnan’s partner, the artist Simone Fattal, has described Adnan’s works as playing “the role the old icons used to play for people who believed. They exude energy and give energy. They shield you like talismans. They help you live your everyday life.”

Adan’s writing and art have certainly been a talisman and energy-giver in my own life, so today I share just one poem of hers with you and urge you to look at her art online. If you happen to be passing through New York City in the next few months, you can see her art displayed in an exhibition, “Etel Adnan: Light’s New Measure,” at the Guggenheim until January 10.

Photo of Etel Adnan
Photo of Etel Adnan, Creative Commons
From"Surge"

A long night I spent
thinking that reality was the story
of the human species



the vanquished search for the vanquished



Sounds come by, ruffling my soul
 

I sense space’s elasticity, 
go on reading the books she wrote on the
wars she’s seen



Why do seasons who regularly follow
their appointed time, deny their kind of energy
to us?



why is winter followed by a few
more days of winter? 



We came to transmit the shimmering
from which we came; to name it


 
we deal with a permanent voyage,
the becoming of that which itself had
become

I haven’t touched anyone in a year

Here is a poem I’ve always loved by Solmaz Sharif, whose necessary work, including her first book Look, I can’t recommend enough–and who I am lucky to know not just on paper but in life as a dear friend.

an illustration of a blue egg on a plate with white bones and line drawings of arugula around it
Art by Kristina Closs

“Beauty”

Frugal musicality is how Kristeva described depression’s speech

Cleaning out the sink drain

The melted cheese

The soggy muesli

My life can pass like this

Waiting for beauty

Tomorrow—I say

A life is a thing you have to start

The fridge is a thing with weak magnets, a little sweaty on the inside

A bag of shriveled lime

Arugula frozen then thawed then frozen again, still sealed

I haven’t touched anyone in a year

You asked for beauty, and one morning, a small blue eggshell on the stoop, shattered open, its contents gone

Likely eaten

M asked if I’ve ever made a choice to live and why

I lied the way you lie to the suicidal

few times, I said—not Most days

Most mornings

No, not morning

Morning I am still new

Still possible, I’m still possibly

Usually by 3:00

When grandmother died, she hadn’t been called beautiful in at least half a century

Is never described as such

Her fallen stockings, the way she spit, thwack of the meat cleaver, the little bones she sucked clean and piled on her plate, not really looking at anyone, and certainly not me