Tonight She Wants Wheels – Two New Books (Poems and Essays) from Jane Hirschfield

American Poet and Essayist Jane Hirschfield

American Poet and Essayist Jane Hirschfield

from Fifteen Pebbles

Opening the Hand Between Here and Here

          On the dark road, only the weight of the rope.
          Yet the horse is there.

Jane Hirschfield (1953 – ) from Come, Thief, Alfred A. Knopf, 2011





from Twelve Pebbles

                I Know You Think I’ve Forgotten

but today
in rain
without coat without hat

Jane Hirshfield from The Beauty: Poems  Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, 2015

Jane Hirschfield is a lay Zen practioner and it shows in the silence that is the mortar between her words and her lines. What we don’t hear. What we don’t see. I heard Hirschfield recite the first small/huge poem above in Key West, Florida two months ago. The second poem above, I read today from her latest book.

The unseen horse in the first poem, whatever it stands for, haunted me as I left her reading. What is the weight we carry, tied to the invisible, I wondered, as I lay alone in my motel bed that night? These are the “big” questions which are Hirschfield trademarks. The second poem startles me with who isn’t there. And the shockingly simple images for grief. Grief like standing drenched, no coat no hat!

The unheard, the unseen. These all loom large and loud in the poetry of this cherished American poet whose latest publications were released today: The Beauty, a book of poems and Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World, a book of essays. For an interview with Hirschfield on these books from NPR in the U.S. click here.

At the Key West reading Hirschfield quoted Emily Dickinson: Who has not found the heaven below will fall out of it above. This appears to be Hirschfield’s full time job: finding heaven below. Even in a rain gutter in a time of much violence and war:


in the corner of a high rain gutter
under the roof tiles
new grasses’ delicate seed heads

what war, they say

Jane Hirshfield from the The Beauty, 2015,  Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Hirschfield’s poetry occupies a world I know: one of shimmering uncertainties that feel real yet fall away like early morning mist touched by the sun.  Her poetics is a poetics of the evanescent. Again, at Key West, she said: Surety is the sign of fundamentalists. Within poems, she added, there is a trickster always kicking us off the pedestal of sureness, fundamentalism. 

Against Certainty

There is something out in the dark that wants to correct us.
Each time I think “this,” it answers “that.”
Answers hard, in the heart-grammar’s strictness.

If I then say “that,” it too is taken away.

Between certainty and the real, an ancient enmity.
When the cat waits in the path-hedge,
no cell of her body is not waiting.
This is how she is able so completely to disappear.

I would like to enter the silence portion as she does.

To live amid the great vanishing as a cat must live,
one shadow fully at ease inside another.

Jane Hirschfield from After, Harper Collins, 2006


Hirschfield’s cat. Not Schroedinger’s cat but equally mysterious! A cat that disappears inside sheer attention. As Hirschfield seems to. Amid the great vanishing. But Hirschfield, however mystic she is, is no gnostic. She is rooted in this heaven below. She celebrates what holds us to the ground: two legs, four legs, wheels.


Nothing on two legs weighs much,
or can.
An elephant, a donkey, even a cookstove—
those legs, a person could stand on.
Two legs pitch you forward.
Two legs tire.
They look for another two legs to be with,
to move one set forward to music
while letting the other move back.
They want to carve into a tree trunk:
2gether 4ever. Nothing on two legs can bark,
can whinny or chuff. 
Tonight, though, everything’s different.
Tonight I want wheels.

Jane Hirschfield from The Beauty, ibid

For those of you not familiar with Hirschfield jump into her new poems. Enjoy her essays. This poet is on wheels  and we get to jump on for a ride.

The photo of Jane and Seamus Heaney, which was snapped in April 2013 comes from Poets.Org which published a remembrance of Heaney by Jane after he died in August 2013. To read Jane’s thoughtful words on Heaney please click here

Jane Hirschfield and Seamus Heaney in 2013. Photo from Poets.Org

Jane Hirschfield and Seamus Heaney in 2013. Photo from Poets.Org




  1. Heidi Garnett
    Posted March 18, 2015 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Hirschfield is one of my favourite poets and thank you for sharing this new work. How difficult it is to not say something.

  2. Richard
    Posted March 18, 2015 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Heidi. I always think of you when I think of Hirschfield’a poem about the white bull coming out of the sea.

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