One angle blunts, another sharpens.
Loss also: stone & knife.
Some griefs augment the heart,
rooms unwalked in,
these losses are small.
Others cannot be described at all.
Returned from Long Travels
the calls of the birds of this place
not even your own planted roses
not knowing if this
or some changed existence
like the fields of red
and blue tulips of stylized Izmir
painted now onto a bowl
now onto a vase
from "The Poet on the Poem -- Returned from Long Travels" in which Hirshfield discusses her trip to the island of Paros for the latest New Symposium sponsored by The University of Iowa's International Writing Program. Writers from many different countries met in Paros to discuss issues of justice. During the trip, the group of writers also traveled to Syria, Jordan, Israel, Ramallah, and Turkey.
“Returned from Long Travels” was written immediately after that trip. The 4:30 a.m. call to prayer in Istanbul haunting the ears one morning, California chickadees the next—-we are not constituted to encompass such transitions.
“The Poet on the Poem,” this small column is titled. OK then, some- thing about the poem. It is unpunctuated, a relatively rare practice for me. I might say now this choice is because the experience held by these lines was one of finding myself undone and, quite literally disoriented, stripped of context and markers. At the time of writing, though, I was not making an aesthetic or semiotic choice. I knew only that any attempt at a guiding notation felt like both vertigo and lying. I knew I knew nothing, except that I had been translated from my prior life in ways I could not then name or objectively comprehend. I still cannot.
The vase of painted blue and red tulips, which I see every day in my kitchen, is perhaps comprehension enough. Maps separate what is con- tinuous into fragments; fixed names harm. The editor of Agos said, in his crammed office, “It does us no good for the US Congress to pass a decla- ration that there was genocide, that is a red flag to a bull. What will help is that young people here talk to one another, and this has started to happen. What will help is that the stories be told.”
We were asked to write afterwords for our papers for the New Symposium. Mine closed with this:
I feel increasingly, though, that even “remedy” is the wrong word. There can be healing, but no full cure. The broken bone will always ache in the rain. [. . .] The effect on me of these days of conversation has been, perhaps surprisingly, an increase of grief. I’ve grown less optimistic and more sad. This isn’t, though, a bad thing. When the arrogance of certainty loosens its grip, we loosen ours. Life is fragile, small, perennially vulnerable, and wants to be held softly. The statue of Justice, I now think, is blindfolded so we cannot see it is weeping. The scales tremble in its hand, and that is what we call balance.
from American Poetry Review, September/October 2009