In Italy, on the day of the dead, they ring bells, from every church and village in every direction. At the usual times, the regular bells of the hour— eleven strokes, twelve. Oar strokes laid over and into the bottomless water and air. But the others? Tuneless, keyless, rhythm of wings at the door of the hive when the entrance is suddenly shuttered and the bees, returned heavy, see that the world of flowering and pollen is over. There can be no instruction to make this. Undimensioned the tongues of the bells, the ropes of the bells, their big iron bodies unholy. Barred from form, barred from bars, from relation. The beauty—unspeakable— was beauty. I drank it and thirsted, I stopped. I ran. Wanted closer in every direction. Each bell stroke released without memory or judgment, unviolent, untender. Uncaring. And yet: existent. Something trembling. I—who have not known bombardment— have never heard so naked a claim of the dead on the living, to know them.
Anatomy and Making
In Chinese painting, there are flowers with bones, flowers that are boneless.
Also in trees, men, mountains, horses, and houses.
A calcium not subject but angle the brush is held by, minerals into.
Fox hairs are soft, yet fox bones and fox teeth are in them.
Dragon veins, the space between mountains is called.
Lu Ch’ai wrote, “When painting a rock, paint all three of its faces.”
I think of the two Greek masks, one laughing, one weeping, and then of the third he would have found missing— mask-face of wonder? of anger? of rigor? a child’s look before sleep?
Lu wrote, “There is only one thing to be said here: rocks painted fully are living.”
And then, of painting people, “Hands slipped into sleeves are warm, no feeling of coldness.”
In Praise of Being Peripheral
Without philosophy, tragedy, history,
a grey squirrel looks very busy.
Light as a soul released from a painting by Bosch, its greens and vermilions stripped off it.
He climbs a tree that is equally ahistoric.
His heart works harder.
Jane Hirshfield’s eighth book of poetry, The Beauty, and second collection of essays, Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World, are both appearing from Knopf in March 2015. A current chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Hirshfield’s poems appear in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Orion, The Paris Review, and eight editions of The Best American Poetry.
Editor’s Note: These poems appear in Jane Hirshfield’s new book, The Beauty. They are reprinted with permission of the poet.
Photo from bell tower of the village of La Morra, Italy courtesy Shutterstock.