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
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?
“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
a grey squirrel
Light as a soul
from a painting by Bosch,
and vermilions stripped off it.
He climbs a tree
that is equally ahistoric.
His heart works harder.
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.