Ledger

Poems

Look inside
Paperback
$18.00 US
6"W x 8.98"H x 0.36"D  
On sale Sep 07, 2021 | 128 Pages | 9781524711719
| Grades 9-12 + AP/IB
Ledger is a pivotal book of personal, ecological, and political reckoning tuned toward issues of consequence to all who share this world’s current and future fate.

Ledger’s pages hold the most important work yet by Jane Hirshfield, one of our most celebrated contemporary poets. From the already much-quoted opening lines of despair and defiance (“Let them not say: we did not see it. / We saw”), Hirshfield’s poems inscribe a registry, both personal and communal, of our present-day predicaments.
 
They call us to deepened dimensions of thought, feeling, and action. They summon our responsibility to sustain one another and the earth while pondering, acutely and tenderly, the crises of refugees, justice, and climate. They consider “the minimum mass for a whale, for a language, an ice cap,” recognize the intimacies of connection, and meditate upon doubt and contentment, a library book with previously dog-eared corners, the hunger for surprise, and the debt we owe this world's continuing beauty.
 
Hirshfield’s signature alloy of fact and imagination, clarity and mystery, inquiry, observation, and embodied emotion has created a book of indispensable poems by a “modern master” (The Washington Post).
 
“In language of uncanny lyrical precision, Hirshfield’s work redraws boundaries between the self and the natural world.” —Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe

“[Hirshfield] writes about what matters in the world. . . . She is responsible with every word choice, every line a deliberate beat, each poem its own chrysalis of meaning. . . . She gives you the observation of life as we’re all living it and the personal tragedy life entails, and then she slips in themes of planetary crisis. It’s the kind of gut punch good poems provide, the solid fist inside the velvet glove. . . . This is a book to read front to back, then at random, then front to back again.” —Elizabeth Crane, Vox

“A clear, steadying voice, and a firm reminder of the immensity and promise of one human life within the vast mystery of the world that holds it. . . . [Ledger] bears witness to Earth under duress—trees toppling, birds vanishing, oceans acidifying. But the poet holds no megaphone or manifesto. There’s a mournful quality to the work, a quiet and elegiac composure. The book is a ledger of loss and loss-to-come. Its subject is grim, but it is not a grim book. It’s a stirring call to action’s antecedent—awareness. . . . For Hirshfield, every poem is a renewal of a lifelong intention to cultivate awareness.” —Colleen Morton Busch, Orion Magazine

“In her ninth book of poetry, Hirshfield, seeks to balance what we take with what we give, what we seek with what we find, what we observe with what we comprehend. In intimate poems of being, [she] poses meticulous equations of the self coping with doubt, hunger, age, and death. In equally balanced poems, she encompasses the ecological. Ledger perfectly embodies Hirshfield’s carefully weighted tone as she reckons with our constant subtraction of Earth’s life forces and incessant addition of carbon to our atmosphere, acid to our seas. . . . Hirshfield is tender, witty, philosophical, and clarion, knowing us to be creatures of yes and no, credits and debits. ‘We were our own future, / a furnace invented to burn itself up.’” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“Few search-artists have served as greater agents of transmutation than Jane Hirshfield—a poet of optimism and of lucidity, a champion of science and an ordained Buddhist, a poet who could write ‘So few grains of happiness / measured against all the dark / and still the scales balance,’ a poet who can balance and steady us against those times when we 'go to sleep in one world and wake in another’ with her wondrous new collection, Ledger . . . this miraculous book . . . altogether re-saning.” —Maria Popova, Brainpickings.org

“Jane Hirshfield’s poems often feel like whole landscapes, graciously embracing the widest view and the tiniest sequins at once. . . . Her longtime practice of Soto Zen Buddhism and her commitments to scientific knowledge and respect blend to create some of the most important poetry in the world today.” —Naomi Shihab Nye, The New York Times Magazine
“Reading her work, I catch myself thinking that Hirshfield is the poet who orchestrates silences. . . . It isn’t easy these days to find a poet who can do this while being also perfectly articulate and clear. Reading Hirshfield, I find myself coming back to Mahmoud Darwish’s idea that clarity is our ultimate mystery.” —Ilya Kaminsky, The Paris Review

“Intimate, tender free verse. . . . Hirshfield perfectly captures our individual sense of lostness, faced with undeniable catastrophe, while invoking our collective responsibility.” —Fiona Sampson, The Guardian

Ledger is a watershed . . . a culmination. [Hirshfield’s] voice, always inclusive and generous, swells to new levels of relevance, revelation, and resonance in these pages. . . . Many poems in Ledger feel eerily prescient about our current confinement, as in ‘Cataclysm’ when ‘fish unschool’ and ‘sheeps unflock to separately graze’ . . . Rather than give in to despair, these poems place their faith in simple perseverance, coupled with humble, personal action. They offer a larger, longer planetary perspective and provide the spiritual food needed to sustain the effort.” Rebecca Foust, Women’s Voices for Change

“A new volume of poems by acclaimed poet Jane Hirshfield is an event. After reading the poems in Ledger—a capacious, varied volume—it seems as if ordinary life is richer and deeper than before. . . . A Hirshfield poem is an exercise in opening the self. . . . The value of such work is beyond question.” —Magdalena Kay, World Literature Today

“The vigilant, deeply observed poems in Ledger are an antidote to collective blindness.” —Jessica Zack, San Francisco Chronicle

“[Hirshfield] understands the world in all its happiness, melancholy, unpleasant surprise and moments of resilience.” —Amy Bloom, The New York Times
“When a poet’s purpose is tied to our own fate, we tend to notice the poems more seriously because it’s not only the ‘dexterous pen and the beautiful hand,’ but a moral clarity we want. . . . This happens while reading Hirshfield more than most. . . . Writers are denizens of a complex world, figuring it out for us. They restore consciousness, rinse off language, and create a finer air. Hirshfield has done this for many years. Ledger continues that literary history. It is another invitation to find the many choices within ourselves.” —Grace Cavelieri, The Washington Independent Review of Books

“[Hirshfield’s] stark, powerful poems are crafted so simply they seem effortless. Constructed largely of nouns and verbs . . . it’s hard to understand how they manage to evoke such a range of emotion. And yet they do, with a voice that at times seems like an old-world prophet, at times like a Zen Master. . . . What emerges as one reads this book is a sense of mourning for what’s lost, and a piercing delight in what is left. By calling attention to the facts and figures of loss, by offering up a reckoning, Ledger literally as well as figuratively reminds us of what counts.” —Meryl Natchez, ZYZZYVA

“Poet Jane Hirshfield fuses science, loss, and wonder in her new collection, Ledger. . . . A tender and fearsome accounting of how humans have used and abused the planet. The poems are infused with loss, bafflement, and possibility.” —Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, The Open Notebook

“Hirshfield’s ability to distill a single image with vodka clarity is on full display in her ninth collection. . . . Whatever exquisite form these poems take, they carry a haiku spirit.” —Stephanie Pruitt-Gaines, BookPage

“Hirshfield tackles some of the biggest questions we face as living beings. . . . Her poetry and essays move between scales vast and miniscule, balancing awe and mundanity, the out of the ordinary and the everyday.” —Marie Scarles, Tricycle

“Masterful. . . . Hirshfield urges a reckoning of human influence on—and interference with—the planet. . . . [Her] world is one filled with beauty, from the ‘generosity’ of grass to humanity’s connection to the muskrat. This is both a paean and a heartbreaking plea.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Zen poetry for a bleak era. . . . An exploration of the capacity for life, its value and purpose. . . . Hirshfield’s hand is deft. . . . We look very closely at an object or statement before lifting it to discover what else it can tell us about ourselves; a light shined outward, then the camera angle shifts and the light is back on us. . . . Hirshfield’s collection does exactly what we expect, and a little more—more of the personal, more of the contemporary world and its problems, more transcendence through art.” —Genevieve Walker, San Francisco Chronicle
© Curt Richter
Writing “some of the most important poetry in the world today” (The New York Times Magazine), JANE HIRSHFIELD is the author of ten collections and is one of American poetry's central spokespersons for concerns of the biosphere. Hirshfield's honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, the Poetry Center Book Award, the California Book Award, and finalist selection for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She’s also the author of two now-classic collections of essays on the craft of poetry, and edited and co-translated four books presenting world poets from the deep past. Hirshfield's work, which has been translated into seventeen languages, appears in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, and ten editions of The Best American Poetry. A former chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2019. View titles by Jane Hirshfield
LET THEM NOT SAY
 
Let them not say: we did not see it.
We saw.
 
Let them not say: we did not hear it.
We heard.
 
Let them not say: they did not taste it.
We ate, we trembled.
 
Let them not say: it was not spoken, not written.
We spoke,
we witnessed with voices and hands.
 
Let them not say: they did nothing.
We did not-enough.
 
Let them say, as they must say something:
 
A kerosene beauty.
It burned.
 
Let them say we warmed ourselves by it,
read by its light, praised,
and it burned.
 
 
THE BOWL
If meat is put into the bowl, meat is eaten.
 
If rice is put into the bowl, it may be cooked.
 
If a shoe is put into the bowl,
the leather is chewed and chewed over,
a sentence that cannot be taken in or forgotten.
 
A day, if a day could feel, must feel like a bowl.
Wars, loves, trucks, betrayals, kindness,
it eats them.
 
Then the next day comes, spotless and hungry.
 
The bowl cannot be thrown away.
It cannot be broken.
 
It is calm, uneclipsable, rindless,
and, big though it seems, fits exactly in two human hands.
 
Hands with ten fingers,
fifty-four bones,
capacities strange to us almost past measure.
Scented—as the curve of the bowl is—
with cardamom, star anise, long pepper, cinnamon, hyssop.
 
 
I WANTED TO BE SURPRISED.
 
To such a request, the world is obliging.
 
In just the past week, a rotund porcupine,
who seemed equally startled by me.
 
The man who swallowed a tiny microphone
to record the sounds of his body,
not considering beforehand how he might remove it.
 
A cabbage and mustard sandwich on marbled bread.
 
How easily the large spiders were caught with a clear plastic cup
surprised even them.
 
I don’t know why I was surprised every time love started or ended.
Or why each time a new fossil, Earth-like planet, or war.
Or that no one kept being there when the doorknob had clearly.
 
What should not have been so surprising:
my error after error, recognized when appearing on the faces of
others.
 
What did not surprise enough:
my daily expectation that anything would continue,
and then that so much did continue, when so much did not.
 
Small rivulets still flowing downhill when it wasn’t raining.
A sister’s birthday.
 
Also, the stubborn, courteous persistence.
That even today please means please,
good morning is still understood as good morning,
and that when I wake up,
the window’s distant mountain remains a mountain,
the borrowed city around me is still a city, and standing.
 
Its alleys and markets, offices of dentists,
drug store, liquor store, Chevron.
Its library that charges—a happy surprise—no fine for overdue books:
Borges, Baldwin, Szymborska, Morrison, Cavafy.
 
 
VEST
 
I put on again the vest of many pockets.
 
It is easy to forget
which holds the reading glasses,
which the small pen,
which the house keys,
the compass and whistle, the passport.
 
To forget at last for weeks
even the pocket holding the day
of digging a place for my sister’s ashes,
the one holding the day
where someone will soon enough put my own.
 
To misplace the pocket
of touching the walls at Auschwitz
would seem impossible.
It is not.
 
To misplace, for a decade,
the pocket of tears.
 
I rummage and rummage—
transfers
for Munich, for Melbourne,
to Oslo.
A receipt for a Singapore kopi.
A device holding music:
Bach, Garcia, Richter, Porter, Pärt.
 
A woman long dead now
gave me, when I told her I could not sing,
a kazoo.
Now in a pocket.
 
Somewhere, a pocket
holding a Steinway.
Somewhere, a pocket
holding a packet of salt.
 
Borgesian vest,
Oxford English Dictionary vest
with a magnifying glass
tucked inside one snapped-closed pocket,
Wikipedia vest, Rosetta vest,
Enigma vest of decoding,
how is it one person can carry
your weight for a lifetime,
one person
slip into your open arms for a lifetime?
 
Who was given the world,
and hunted for tissues, for chapstick.
 
 
AN ARCHAEOLOGY
 
Sixty feet below the streets of Rome,
the streets of Rome.
Like that, I heard your voice, my life.
Like that I listened.
 
I listened
as to neighbors who live
behind the back wall of a building.
 
You know the voices of them,
the arguments and re-knittings,
the scents of their cooking and absence.
You know their plosives, gutturals, fricatives, stops.
 
Say to any who walk here,
“How are you?”
Ask where some bar or café might be found.
You could talk together, and drink,
and find your own neighbor.
 
But ask your life anything, ask it,
“How did this happen? What have we come to?”
It turns its face, it hums as a fish-hiding sea does.
 
 
FECIT
 
for a person in love, the air looks no different
 
for a person in grief
 
in this my one lifetime,
while reading, arguing, cherishing, washing, watching a video,
sleeping,
the numbers unseeably rise—
 
305 ppm, 317 ppm, 390, 400
 
shin of high granite ticks snow-less the compound fracture
 
I who wrote this
 
like the old painters
sign this:
 
JH fecit.
 
 
DAY BEGINNING WITH SEEING THE INTERNATIONAL
SPACE STATION AND A FULL MOON OVER THE
GULT OF MEXICO AND ALL ITS INVISIBLE FISHES
 
None of this had to happen.
Not Florida. Not the ibis’s beak. Not water.
Not the horseshoe crab’s empty body and not the living starfish.
Evolution might have turned left at the corner and gone down another
street entirely.
The asteroid might have missed.
The seams of limestone need not have been susceptible to sand and
mangroves.
The radio might have found a different music.
The hips of one man and the hips of another might have stood beside
each other on a bus in Aleppo and recognized themselves as long-lost
brothers.
The key could have broken off in the lock and the nail-can refused its
lid.
I might have been the fish the brown pelican swallowed.
You might have been the way the moon kept not setting long after we
thought it would,
long after the sun was catching inside the low wave curls coming in
at a certain angle. The light might not have been eaten again by its
moving.
If the unbearable were not weightless we might yet buckle under the
grief
of what hasn’t changed yet. Across the world a man pulls a woman
from the water
from which the leapt-from overfilled boat has entirely vanished.
From the water pulls one child, another. Both are living and both will
continue to live.
This did not have to happen. No part of this had to happen.
 
 
AS IF HEARING HEAVY FURNITURE MOVED ON THE
FLOOR ABOVE US
 
As things grow rarer, they enter the ranges of counting.
Remain this many Siberian tigers,
that many African elephants. Three hundred red-legged egrets.
We scrape from the world its tilt and meander of wonder
as if eating the last burned onions and carrots from a cast-iron pan.
Closing eyes to taste better the char of ordinary sweetness.
“In language of uncanny lyrical precision, Hirshfield's work redraws boundaries between the self and the natural world.” —Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe

“[Hirshfield] writes about what matters in the world . . . She is responsible with every word choice, every line a deliberate beat, each poem its own chrysalis of meaning . . . She gives you the observation of life as we’re all living it and the personal tragedy life entails, and then she slips in themes of planetary crisis. It’s the kind of gut punch good poems provide, the solid fist inside the velvet glove . . . This is a book to read front to back, then at random, then front to back again.” —Elizabeth Crane, Vox

“A clear, steadying voice, and a firm reminder of the immensity and promise of one human life within the vast mystery of the world that holds it . . . [Ledger] bears witness to Earth under duress—trees toppling, birds vanishing, oceans acidifying. But the poet holds no megaphone or manifesto. There’s a mournful quality to the work, a quiet and elegiac composure. The book is a ledger of loss and loss-to-come. Its subject is grim, but it is not a grim book. It’s a stirring call to action’s antecedent—awareness . . . For Hirshfield, every poem is a renewal of a lifelong intention to cultivate awareness.” —Colleen Morton Busch, Orion Magazine

“In her ninth book of poetry, Hirshfield, seeks to balance what we take with what we give, what we seek with what we find, what we observe with what we comprehend. In intimate poems of being, [she] poses meticulous equations of the self coping with doubt, hunger, age, and death. In equally balanced poems, she encompasses the ecological. Ledger perfectly embodies Hirshfield’s carefully weighted tone as she reckons with our constant subtraction of Earth’s life forces and incessant addition of carbon to our atmosphere, acid to our seas . . . Hirshfield is tender, witty, philosophical, and clarion, knowing us to be creatures of yes and no, credits and debits. ‘We were our own future, / a furnace invented to burn itself up.’” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“Few search-artists have served as greater agents of transmutation than Jane Hirshfield—a poet of optimism and of lucidity, a champion of science and an ordained Buddhist, a poet who could write 'So few grains of happiness / measured against all the dark / and still the scales balance,' a poet who can balance and steady us against those times when we 'go to sleep in one world and wake in another' with her wondrous new collection, Ledger . . . this miraculous book . . . altogether re-saning.” —Maria Popova, Brainpickings.org

“Jane Hirshfield’s poems often feel like whole landscapes, graciously embracing the widest view and the tiniest sequins at once . . . Her longtime practice of Soto Zen Buddhism and her commitments to scientific knowledge and respect blend to create some of the most important poetry in the world today.” —Naomi Shihab Nye, The New York Times Magazine

“Reading her work, I catch myself thinking that Hirshfield is the poet who orchestrates silences . . . It isn’t easy these days to find a poet who can do this while being also perfectly articulate and clear. Reading Hirshfield, I find myself coming back to Mahmoud Darwish’s idea that clarity is our ultimate mystery.” —Ilya Kaminsky, The Paris Review

“Intimate, tender free verse . . . Hirshfield perfectly captures our individual sense of lostness, faced with undeniable catastrophe, while invoking our collective responsibility.” —Fiona Sampson, The Guardian

Ledger is a watershed . . . a culmination. [Hirshfield's] voice, always inclusive and generous, swells to new levels of relevance, revelation, and resonance in these pages . . . Many poems in Ledger feel eerily prescient about our current confinement, as in ‘Cataclysm’ when ‘fish unschool’ and ‘sheeps unflock to separately graze’ . . . Rather than give in to despair, these poems place their faith in simple perseverance, coupled with humble, personal action. They offer a larger, longer planetary perspective and provide the spiritual food needed to sustain the effort.” Rebecca Foust, Women’s Voices for Change

“A new volume of poems by acclaimed poet Jane Hirshfield is an event. After reading the poems in Ledger—a capacious, varied volume—it seems as if ordinary life is richer and deeper than before . . . A Hirshfield poem is an exercise in opening the self . . . The value of such work is beyond question.” —Magdalena Kay, World Literature Today

“The vigilant, deeply observed poems in Ledger are an antidote to collective blindness.” —Jessica Zack, San Francisco Chronicle

“[Hirshfield] understands the world in all its happiness, melancholy, unpleasant surprise and moments of resilience.” —Amy Bloom, The New York Times

“When a poet’s purpose is tied to our own fate, we tend to notice the poems more seriously because it’s not only the ‘dexterous pen and the beautiful hand,’ but a moral clarity we want . . . This happens while reading Hirshfield more than most . . . Writers are denizens of a complex world, figuring it out for us. They restore consciousness, rinse off language, and create a finer air. Hirshfield has done this for many years. Ledger continues that literary history. It is another invitation to find the many choices within ourselves.” —Grace Cavelieri, The Washington Independent Review of Books

“[Hirshfield’s] stark, powerful poems are crafted so simply they seem effortless. Constructed largely of nouns and verbs . . . it’s hard to understand how they manage to evoke such a range of emotion. And yet they do, with a voice that at times seems like an old-world prophet, at times like a Zen Master . . . What emerges as one reads this book is a sense of mourning for what’s lost, and a piercing delight in what is left. By calling attention to the facts and figures of loss, by offering up a reckoning, Ledger literally as well as figuratively reminds us of what counts.” — Meryl Natchez, ZYZZYVA

“Poet Jane Hirshfield fuses science, loss, and wonder in her new collection, Ledger . . . A tender and fearsome accounting of how humans have used and abused the planet. The poems are infused with loss, bafflement, and possibility.” —Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, The Open Notebook

“Hirshfield’s ability to distill a single image with vodka clarity is on full display in her ninth collection . . . Whatever exquisite form these poems take, they carry a haiku spirit.” —Stephanie Pruitt-Gaines, BookPage

“Hirshfield tackles some of the biggest questions we face as living beings . . . Her poetry and essays move between scales vast and miniscule, balancing awe and mundanity, the out of the ordinary and the everyday.” —Marie Scarles, Tricycle

“Masterful . . . Hirshfield urges a reckoning of human influence on—and interference with—the planet . . . [Her] world is one filled with beauty, from the ‘generosity’ of grass to humanity’s connection to the muskrat. This is both a paean and a heartbreaking plea.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Zen poetry for a bleak era . . . An exploration of the capacity for life, its value and purpose . . . Hirshfield’s hand is deft . . . We look very closely at an object or statement before lifting it to discover what else it can tell us about ourselves; a light shined outward, then the camera angle shifts and the light is back on us . . . Hirshfield’s collection does exactly what we expect, and a little more—more of the personal, more of the contemporary world and its problems, more transcendence through art.” —Genevieve Walker, San Francisco Chronicle

About

Ledger is a pivotal book of personal, ecological, and political reckoning tuned toward issues of consequence to all who share this world’s current and future fate.

Ledger’s pages hold the most important work yet by Jane Hirshfield, one of our most celebrated contemporary poets. From the already much-quoted opening lines of despair and defiance (“Let them not say: we did not see it. / We saw”), Hirshfield’s poems inscribe a registry, both personal and communal, of our present-day predicaments.
 
They call us to deepened dimensions of thought, feeling, and action. They summon our responsibility to sustain one another and the earth while pondering, acutely and tenderly, the crises of refugees, justice, and climate. They consider “the minimum mass for a whale, for a language, an ice cap,” recognize the intimacies of connection, and meditate upon doubt and contentment, a library book with previously dog-eared corners, the hunger for surprise, and the debt we owe this world's continuing beauty.
 
Hirshfield’s signature alloy of fact and imagination, clarity and mystery, inquiry, observation, and embodied emotion has created a book of indispensable poems by a “modern master” (The Washington Post).
 
“In language of uncanny lyrical precision, Hirshfield’s work redraws boundaries between the self and the natural world.” —Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe

“[Hirshfield] writes about what matters in the world. . . . She is responsible with every word choice, every line a deliberate beat, each poem its own chrysalis of meaning. . . . She gives you the observation of life as we’re all living it and the personal tragedy life entails, and then she slips in themes of planetary crisis. It’s the kind of gut punch good poems provide, the solid fist inside the velvet glove. . . . This is a book to read front to back, then at random, then front to back again.” —Elizabeth Crane, Vox

“A clear, steadying voice, and a firm reminder of the immensity and promise of one human life within the vast mystery of the world that holds it. . . . [Ledger] bears witness to Earth under duress—trees toppling, birds vanishing, oceans acidifying. But the poet holds no megaphone or manifesto. There’s a mournful quality to the work, a quiet and elegiac composure. The book is a ledger of loss and loss-to-come. Its subject is grim, but it is not a grim book. It’s a stirring call to action’s antecedent—awareness. . . . For Hirshfield, every poem is a renewal of a lifelong intention to cultivate awareness.” —Colleen Morton Busch, Orion Magazine

“In her ninth book of poetry, Hirshfield, seeks to balance what we take with what we give, what we seek with what we find, what we observe with what we comprehend. In intimate poems of being, [she] poses meticulous equations of the self coping with doubt, hunger, age, and death. In equally balanced poems, she encompasses the ecological. Ledger perfectly embodies Hirshfield’s carefully weighted tone as she reckons with our constant subtraction of Earth’s life forces and incessant addition of carbon to our atmosphere, acid to our seas. . . . Hirshfield is tender, witty, philosophical, and clarion, knowing us to be creatures of yes and no, credits and debits. ‘We were our own future, / a furnace invented to burn itself up.’” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“Few search-artists have served as greater agents of transmutation than Jane Hirshfield—a poet of optimism and of lucidity, a champion of science and an ordained Buddhist, a poet who could write ‘So few grains of happiness / measured against all the dark / and still the scales balance,’ a poet who can balance and steady us against those times when we 'go to sleep in one world and wake in another’ with her wondrous new collection, Ledger . . . this miraculous book . . . altogether re-saning.” —Maria Popova, Brainpickings.org

“Jane Hirshfield’s poems often feel like whole landscapes, graciously embracing the widest view and the tiniest sequins at once. . . . Her longtime practice of Soto Zen Buddhism and her commitments to scientific knowledge and respect blend to create some of the most important poetry in the world today.” —Naomi Shihab Nye, The New York Times Magazine
“Reading her work, I catch myself thinking that Hirshfield is the poet who orchestrates silences. . . . It isn’t easy these days to find a poet who can do this while being also perfectly articulate and clear. Reading Hirshfield, I find myself coming back to Mahmoud Darwish’s idea that clarity is our ultimate mystery.” —Ilya Kaminsky, The Paris Review

“Intimate, tender free verse. . . . Hirshfield perfectly captures our individual sense of lostness, faced with undeniable catastrophe, while invoking our collective responsibility.” —Fiona Sampson, The Guardian

Ledger is a watershed . . . a culmination. [Hirshfield’s] voice, always inclusive and generous, swells to new levels of relevance, revelation, and resonance in these pages. . . . Many poems in Ledger feel eerily prescient about our current confinement, as in ‘Cataclysm’ when ‘fish unschool’ and ‘sheeps unflock to separately graze’ . . . Rather than give in to despair, these poems place their faith in simple perseverance, coupled with humble, personal action. They offer a larger, longer planetary perspective and provide the spiritual food needed to sustain the effort.” Rebecca Foust, Women’s Voices for Change

“A new volume of poems by acclaimed poet Jane Hirshfield is an event. After reading the poems in Ledger—a capacious, varied volume—it seems as if ordinary life is richer and deeper than before. . . . A Hirshfield poem is an exercise in opening the self. . . . The value of such work is beyond question.” —Magdalena Kay, World Literature Today

“The vigilant, deeply observed poems in Ledger are an antidote to collective blindness.” —Jessica Zack, San Francisco Chronicle

“[Hirshfield] understands the world in all its happiness, melancholy, unpleasant surprise and moments of resilience.” —Amy Bloom, The New York Times
“When a poet’s purpose is tied to our own fate, we tend to notice the poems more seriously because it’s not only the ‘dexterous pen and the beautiful hand,’ but a moral clarity we want. . . . This happens while reading Hirshfield more than most. . . . Writers are denizens of a complex world, figuring it out for us. They restore consciousness, rinse off language, and create a finer air. Hirshfield has done this for many years. Ledger continues that literary history. It is another invitation to find the many choices within ourselves.” —Grace Cavelieri, The Washington Independent Review of Books

“[Hirshfield’s] stark, powerful poems are crafted so simply they seem effortless. Constructed largely of nouns and verbs . . . it’s hard to understand how they manage to evoke such a range of emotion. And yet they do, with a voice that at times seems like an old-world prophet, at times like a Zen Master. . . . What emerges as one reads this book is a sense of mourning for what’s lost, and a piercing delight in what is left. By calling attention to the facts and figures of loss, by offering up a reckoning, Ledger literally as well as figuratively reminds us of what counts.” —Meryl Natchez, ZYZZYVA

“Poet Jane Hirshfield fuses science, loss, and wonder in her new collection, Ledger. . . . A tender and fearsome accounting of how humans have used and abused the planet. The poems are infused with loss, bafflement, and possibility.” —Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, The Open Notebook

“Hirshfield’s ability to distill a single image with vodka clarity is on full display in her ninth collection. . . . Whatever exquisite form these poems take, they carry a haiku spirit.” —Stephanie Pruitt-Gaines, BookPage

“Hirshfield tackles some of the biggest questions we face as living beings. . . . Her poetry and essays move between scales vast and miniscule, balancing awe and mundanity, the out of the ordinary and the everyday.” —Marie Scarles, Tricycle

“Masterful. . . . Hirshfield urges a reckoning of human influence on—and interference with—the planet. . . . [Her] world is one filled with beauty, from the ‘generosity’ of grass to humanity’s connection to the muskrat. This is both a paean and a heartbreaking plea.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Zen poetry for a bleak era. . . . An exploration of the capacity for life, its value and purpose. . . . Hirshfield’s hand is deft. . . . We look very closely at an object or statement before lifting it to discover what else it can tell us about ourselves; a light shined outward, then the camera angle shifts and the light is back on us. . . . Hirshfield’s collection does exactly what we expect, and a little more—more of the personal, more of the contemporary world and its problems, more transcendence through art.” —Genevieve Walker, San Francisco Chronicle

Author

© Curt Richter
Writing “some of the most important poetry in the world today” (The New York Times Magazine), JANE HIRSHFIELD is the author of ten collections and is one of American poetry's central spokespersons for concerns of the biosphere. Hirshfield's honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, the Poetry Center Book Award, the California Book Award, and finalist selection for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She’s also the author of two now-classic collections of essays on the craft of poetry, and edited and co-translated four books presenting world poets from the deep past. Hirshfield's work, which has been translated into seventeen languages, appears in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, and ten editions of The Best American Poetry. A former chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2019. View titles by Jane Hirshfield

Excerpt

LET THEM NOT SAY
 
Let them not say: we did not see it.
We saw.
 
Let them not say: we did not hear it.
We heard.
 
Let them not say: they did not taste it.
We ate, we trembled.
 
Let them not say: it was not spoken, not written.
We spoke,
we witnessed with voices and hands.
 
Let them not say: they did nothing.
We did not-enough.
 
Let them say, as they must say something:
 
A kerosene beauty.
It burned.
 
Let them say we warmed ourselves by it,
read by its light, praised,
and it burned.
 
 
THE BOWL
If meat is put into the bowl, meat is eaten.
 
If rice is put into the bowl, it may be cooked.
 
If a shoe is put into the bowl,
the leather is chewed and chewed over,
a sentence that cannot be taken in or forgotten.
 
A day, if a day could feel, must feel like a bowl.
Wars, loves, trucks, betrayals, kindness,
it eats them.
 
Then the next day comes, spotless and hungry.
 
The bowl cannot be thrown away.
It cannot be broken.
 
It is calm, uneclipsable, rindless,
and, big though it seems, fits exactly in two human hands.
 
Hands with ten fingers,
fifty-four bones,
capacities strange to us almost past measure.
Scented—as the curve of the bowl is—
with cardamom, star anise, long pepper, cinnamon, hyssop.
 
 
I WANTED TO BE SURPRISED.
 
To such a request, the world is obliging.
 
In just the past week, a rotund porcupine,
who seemed equally startled by me.
 
The man who swallowed a tiny microphone
to record the sounds of his body,
not considering beforehand how he might remove it.
 
A cabbage and mustard sandwich on marbled bread.
 
How easily the large spiders were caught with a clear plastic cup
surprised even them.
 
I don’t know why I was surprised every time love started or ended.
Or why each time a new fossil, Earth-like planet, or war.
Or that no one kept being there when the doorknob had clearly.
 
What should not have been so surprising:
my error after error, recognized when appearing on the faces of
others.
 
What did not surprise enough:
my daily expectation that anything would continue,
and then that so much did continue, when so much did not.
 
Small rivulets still flowing downhill when it wasn’t raining.
A sister’s birthday.
 
Also, the stubborn, courteous persistence.
That even today please means please,
good morning is still understood as good morning,
and that when I wake up,
the window’s distant mountain remains a mountain,
the borrowed city around me is still a city, and standing.
 
Its alleys and markets, offices of dentists,
drug store, liquor store, Chevron.
Its library that charges—a happy surprise—no fine for overdue books:
Borges, Baldwin, Szymborska, Morrison, Cavafy.
 
 
VEST
 
I put on again the vest of many pockets.
 
It is easy to forget
which holds the reading glasses,
which the small pen,
which the house keys,
the compass and whistle, the passport.
 
To forget at last for weeks
even the pocket holding the day
of digging a place for my sister’s ashes,
the one holding the day
where someone will soon enough put my own.
 
To misplace the pocket
of touching the walls at Auschwitz
would seem impossible.
It is not.
 
To misplace, for a decade,
the pocket of tears.
 
I rummage and rummage—
transfers
for Munich, for Melbourne,
to Oslo.
A receipt for a Singapore kopi.
A device holding music:
Bach, Garcia, Richter, Porter, Pärt.
 
A woman long dead now
gave me, when I told her I could not sing,
a kazoo.
Now in a pocket.
 
Somewhere, a pocket
holding a Steinway.
Somewhere, a pocket
holding a packet of salt.
 
Borgesian vest,
Oxford English Dictionary vest
with a magnifying glass
tucked inside one snapped-closed pocket,
Wikipedia vest, Rosetta vest,
Enigma vest of decoding,
how is it one person can carry
your weight for a lifetime,
one person
slip into your open arms for a lifetime?
 
Who was given the world,
and hunted for tissues, for chapstick.
 
 
AN ARCHAEOLOGY
 
Sixty feet below the streets of Rome,
the streets of Rome.
Like that, I heard your voice, my life.
Like that I listened.
 
I listened
as to neighbors who live
behind the back wall of a building.
 
You know the voices of them,
the arguments and re-knittings,
the scents of their cooking and absence.
You know their plosives, gutturals, fricatives, stops.
 
Say to any who walk here,
“How are you?”
Ask where some bar or café might be found.
You could talk together, and drink,
and find your own neighbor.
 
But ask your life anything, ask it,
“How did this happen? What have we come to?”
It turns its face, it hums as a fish-hiding sea does.
 
 
FECIT
 
for a person in love, the air looks no different
 
for a person in grief
 
in this my one lifetime,
while reading, arguing, cherishing, washing, watching a video,
sleeping,
the numbers unseeably rise—
 
305 ppm, 317 ppm, 390, 400
 
shin of high granite ticks snow-less the compound fracture
 
I who wrote this
 
like the old painters
sign this:
 
JH fecit.
 
 
DAY BEGINNING WITH SEEING THE INTERNATIONAL
SPACE STATION AND A FULL MOON OVER THE
GULT OF MEXICO AND ALL ITS INVISIBLE FISHES
 
None of this had to happen.
Not Florida. Not the ibis’s beak. Not water.
Not the horseshoe crab’s empty body and not the living starfish.
Evolution might have turned left at the corner and gone down another
street entirely.
The asteroid might have missed.
The seams of limestone need not have been susceptible to sand and
mangroves.
The radio might have found a different music.
The hips of one man and the hips of another might have stood beside
each other on a bus in Aleppo and recognized themselves as long-lost
brothers.
The key could have broken off in the lock and the nail-can refused its
lid.
I might have been the fish the brown pelican swallowed.
You might have been the way the moon kept not setting long after we
thought it would,
long after the sun was catching inside the low wave curls coming in
at a certain angle. The light might not have been eaten again by its
moving.
If the unbearable were not weightless we might yet buckle under the
grief
of what hasn’t changed yet. Across the world a man pulls a woman
from the water
from which the leapt-from overfilled boat has entirely vanished.
From the water pulls one child, another. Both are living and both will
continue to live.
This did not have to happen. No part of this had to happen.
 
 
AS IF HEARING HEAVY FURNITURE MOVED ON THE
FLOOR ABOVE US
 
As things grow rarer, they enter the ranges of counting.
Remain this many Siberian tigers,
that many African elephants. Three hundred red-legged egrets.
We scrape from the world its tilt and meander of wonder
as if eating the last burned onions and carrots from a cast-iron pan.
Closing eyes to taste better the char of ordinary sweetness.

Praise

“In language of uncanny lyrical precision, Hirshfield's work redraws boundaries between the self and the natural world.” —Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe

“[Hirshfield] writes about what matters in the world . . . She is responsible with every word choice, every line a deliberate beat, each poem its own chrysalis of meaning . . . She gives you the observation of life as we’re all living it and the personal tragedy life entails, and then she slips in themes of planetary crisis. It’s the kind of gut punch good poems provide, the solid fist inside the velvet glove . . . This is a book to read front to back, then at random, then front to back again.” —Elizabeth Crane, Vox

“A clear, steadying voice, and a firm reminder of the immensity and promise of one human life within the vast mystery of the world that holds it . . . [Ledger] bears witness to Earth under duress—trees toppling, birds vanishing, oceans acidifying. But the poet holds no megaphone or manifesto. There’s a mournful quality to the work, a quiet and elegiac composure. The book is a ledger of loss and loss-to-come. Its subject is grim, but it is not a grim book. It’s a stirring call to action’s antecedent—awareness . . . For Hirshfield, every poem is a renewal of a lifelong intention to cultivate awareness.” —Colleen Morton Busch, Orion Magazine

“In her ninth book of poetry, Hirshfield, seeks to balance what we take with what we give, what we seek with what we find, what we observe with what we comprehend. In intimate poems of being, [she] poses meticulous equations of the self coping with doubt, hunger, age, and death. In equally balanced poems, she encompasses the ecological. Ledger perfectly embodies Hirshfield’s carefully weighted tone as she reckons with our constant subtraction of Earth’s life forces and incessant addition of carbon to our atmosphere, acid to our seas . . . Hirshfield is tender, witty, philosophical, and clarion, knowing us to be creatures of yes and no, credits and debits. ‘We were our own future, / a furnace invented to burn itself up.’” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“Few search-artists have served as greater agents of transmutation than Jane Hirshfield—a poet of optimism and of lucidity, a champion of science and an ordained Buddhist, a poet who could write 'So few grains of happiness / measured against all the dark / and still the scales balance,' a poet who can balance and steady us against those times when we 'go to sleep in one world and wake in another' with her wondrous new collection, Ledger . . . this miraculous book . . . altogether re-saning.” —Maria Popova, Brainpickings.org

“Jane Hirshfield’s poems often feel like whole landscapes, graciously embracing the widest view and the tiniest sequins at once . . . Her longtime practice of Soto Zen Buddhism and her commitments to scientific knowledge and respect blend to create some of the most important poetry in the world today.” —Naomi Shihab Nye, The New York Times Magazine

“Reading her work, I catch myself thinking that Hirshfield is the poet who orchestrates silences . . . It isn’t easy these days to find a poet who can do this while being also perfectly articulate and clear. Reading Hirshfield, I find myself coming back to Mahmoud Darwish’s idea that clarity is our ultimate mystery.” —Ilya Kaminsky, The Paris Review

“Intimate, tender free verse . . . Hirshfield perfectly captures our individual sense of lostness, faced with undeniable catastrophe, while invoking our collective responsibility.” —Fiona Sampson, The Guardian

Ledger is a watershed . . . a culmination. [Hirshfield's] voice, always inclusive and generous, swells to new levels of relevance, revelation, and resonance in these pages . . . Many poems in Ledger feel eerily prescient about our current confinement, as in ‘Cataclysm’ when ‘fish unschool’ and ‘sheeps unflock to separately graze’ . . . Rather than give in to despair, these poems place their faith in simple perseverance, coupled with humble, personal action. They offer a larger, longer planetary perspective and provide the spiritual food needed to sustain the effort.” Rebecca Foust, Women’s Voices for Change

“A new volume of poems by acclaimed poet Jane Hirshfield is an event. After reading the poems in Ledger—a capacious, varied volume—it seems as if ordinary life is richer and deeper than before . . . A Hirshfield poem is an exercise in opening the self . . . The value of such work is beyond question.” —Magdalena Kay, World Literature Today

“The vigilant, deeply observed poems in Ledger are an antidote to collective blindness.” —Jessica Zack, San Francisco Chronicle

“[Hirshfield] understands the world in all its happiness, melancholy, unpleasant surprise and moments of resilience.” —Amy Bloom, The New York Times

“When a poet’s purpose is tied to our own fate, we tend to notice the poems more seriously because it’s not only the ‘dexterous pen and the beautiful hand,’ but a moral clarity we want . . . This happens while reading Hirshfield more than most . . . Writers are denizens of a complex world, figuring it out for us. They restore consciousness, rinse off language, and create a finer air. Hirshfield has done this for many years. Ledger continues that literary history. It is another invitation to find the many choices within ourselves.” —Grace Cavelieri, The Washington Independent Review of Books

“[Hirshfield’s] stark, powerful poems are crafted so simply they seem effortless. Constructed largely of nouns and verbs . . . it’s hard to understand how they manage to evoke such a range of emotion. And yet they do, with a voice that at times seems like an old-world prophet, at times like a Zen Master . . . What emerges as one reads this book is a sense of mourning for what’s lost, and a piercing delight in what is left. By calling attention to the facts and figures of loss, by offering up a reckoning, Ledger literally as well as figuratively reminds us of what counts.” — Meryl Natchez, ZYZZYVA

“Poet Jane Hirshfield fuses science, loss, and wonder in her new collection, Ledger . . . A tender and fearsome accounting of how humans have used and abused the planet. The poems are infused with loss, bafflement, and possibility.” —Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, The Open Notebook

“Hirshfield’s ability to distill a single image with vodka clarity is on full display in her ninth collection . . . Whatever exquisite form these poems take, they carry a haiku spirit.” —Stephanie Pruitt-Gaines, BookPage

“Hirshfield tackles some of the biggest questions we face as living beings . . . Her poetry and essays move between scales vast and miniscule, balancing awe and mundanity, the out of the ordinary and the everyday.” —Marie Scarles, Tricycle

“Masterful . . . Hirshfield urges a reckoning of human influence on—and interference with—the planet . . . [Her] world is one filled with beauty, from the ‘generosity’ of grass to humanity’s connection to the muskrat. This is both a paean and a heartbreaking plea.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Zen poetry for a bleak era . . . An exploration of the capacity for life, its value and purpose . . . Hirshfield’s hand is deft . . . We look very closely at an object or statement before lifting it to discover what else it can tell us about ourselves; a light shined outward, then the camera angle shifts and the light is back on us . . . Hirshfield’s collection does exactly what we expect, and a little more—more of the personal, more of the contemporary world and its problems, more transcendence through art.” —Genevieve Walker, San Francisco Chronicle

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