Four Poems

A mixed media painting of a blue and a yellow fish
The Aquarium, 20" x 24" hand-painted paper collage on wood panel, private collection. © Elizabeth St. Hilaire (

Three Pebbles

Sixth Extinction

It took with it
the words that could have described it.



This body, still walking.
The wind must go around it.



Most of us hungry at daybreak, sleepy by dark.
Some slept, one eye open, in water. 
Some could trot.
Some of us lived till morning. Some did not. 



We once threw 
empty soda cans out bus windows,
as all of our kind. 

Mice, rabbits.  

That changed.
The highways grew prettier.

On one coast, we ate Oregon forests.
On the other, cod banks and bluefish.

Teethed, we were. 
Mammals needing to nap, 
to leap a little when happy or frightened.


O Snail

Under the Svalbard ice cap, Carboniferous era coal seams. 
A good farmer rotates her crops. 
The crops don’t complain. It’s the fate of stalks and forests to vanish.  
Last year’s fires: Australia, Portugal, Greece. This year’s: California.

O snail, wrote Issa, climb Fuji slowly, slowly.



Humans: beings directional,

With left and right hands,
left and right feet,
ears that hear lullabies 
from one side or the other,
nostrils that know fear or food 
from one side or the other.

Beings who sneeze
while following a trail
through wet woods
to whose asters and mosses 
two eyes bring stereoscopic depth.

Sometimes, it’s true, the ears mishear:

Sometimes the feet’s direction is only away.

Sometimes the hands misunderstand their task.
They tremble. 
They ask their wrists: This? 

Fingers with such sensitive nerve ends,
such solicitude holding a chisel or cello,
they thought they were meant to inflict only beauty and kindness.

Photo: Nick Rosza

Jane Hirshfield’s most recent books are The Beauty, longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award, and Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World, winner of the 2015 Northern California Book Award (see WLT, May 2015, 120, 126). Her ninth poetry collection, Ledger, will appear in early 2020 from Knopf. Hirshfield served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2012 to 2018.