Once, it drank beer for breakfast…

Having written about Jane Hirshfield and her book Heart of Haiku in my previous blog post, I thought I would share one of of the author’s own poems.

This is one of her best known poems, but I chose it because I like it myself. I like how the poem changes throughout, it grows old and yet the love doesn’t, love doesn’t change with age. In this poem I see love as a roof, like Basho’s straw hat, or a sun that touches everything, no matter how many thousands of days it has risen up over the horizon.

I like how it drank beer for breakfast, I have an old photo of another me, doing just that. I like how the poem itself is the subject. I like how it shows us that poems have a life of their own, beyond words, and beyond the page, beyond the reader and the writer.

This Was Once a Love Poem

This was once a love poem,
before its haunches thickened, its breath grew short,
before it found itself sitting,
perplexed and a little embarrassed,
on the fender of a parked car,
while many people passed by without turning their heads.

It remembers itself dressing as if for a great engagement.
It remembers choosing these shoes,
this scarf or tie.

Once, it drank beer for breakfast,
drifted its feet
in a river side by side with the feet of another.

Once it pretended shyness, then grew truly shy,
dropping its head so the hair would fall forward,
so the eyes would not be seen.

It spoke with passion of history, of art.
It was lovely then, this poem.
Under its chin, no fold of skin softened.
Behind the knees, no pad of yellow fat.
What it knew in the morning it still believed at nightfall.
An unconjured confidence lifted its eyebrows, its cheeks.

The longing has not diminished.
Still it understands. It is time to consider a cat,
the cultivation of African violets or flowering cactus.

Yes, it decides:
Many miniature cacti, in blue and red painted pots.
When it finds itself disquieted
by the pure and unfamiliar silence of its new life,
it will touch them—one, then another—
with a single finger outstretched like a tiny flame.

From Given Sugar, Given Salt by Jane Hirshfield, published by Harper Collins. Copyright © 2001 by Jane Hirshfield.


2 thoughts on “Once, it drank beer for breakfast…

  1. I quite frequently mention Jane’s book of essays on poetry “Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry” which was a life-changer for me and the book that got me to buy collections of Japanese poetry. Haiku–I believe you’ve already discovered our mutual interest in that. I have both Western and Eastern haiku–interesting.

    Jane is a fabulous writer in any form. I must try and get a poetry collection of hers. She has a real gift for translating Japanese poetry–has a whole chapter on the nuance of it in Nine Gates.

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