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.

All day wondering if I’ve become useless

illustration of an osprey carrying sticks in the air
Art by Kristina Closs

“Brocade”

by Jane Hirshfield

All day wondering
if I’ve become useless.

All day the osprey
white and black,
carrying
big dry sticks without leaves.

Late, I say to my pride,

You think you’re the feathered part
of this don’t you?

how the black cord makes of them a single fabric

I rarely share a poem twice on this blog, but today I offer a piece by the wonderfully mystical Jane Hirshfield (1953-) that I posted almost exactly five years ago to this day. I had the pleasure of hearing her read this, along with many other healing, deeply contemplative poems earlier this week, and the images still linger with me this morning.

jane-hirshfield_michael-lionstar

“For What Binds Us”

There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they’ve been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.

And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before.
There’s a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,

as all flesh
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest-

And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.