Jane Hirshfield’s new poetry collection is a personal, ecological and political reckoning, a registry of contemporary dilemmas and an urgent call to action on climate change, social justice and the plight of refugees. The poems record both abiding and squandered riches and mourn our many failures, summoning our common responsibility to sustain one another and the world.


Day Beginning with Seeing the International Space Station and a Full Moon over the Gulf 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 recognised 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.


(No Wind, No Rain)

No wind, no rain,

the tree

just fell, as a piece of fruit does.


But no, not fruit. Not ripe.

Not fell.


It broke. It shattered.


One cone’s

addition of resinous cell-sap,

one small-bodied bird

arriving to tap for a beetle.


It shattered.


What word, what act,

was it we thought did not matter?

From the collection Ledger (Bloodaxe Books, £10.99)


Jane Hirshfield was born in 1953 in New York and lives in northern California. Her first book of poetry published in the UK was Each Happiness Ringed by Lions: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2005), which draws on her collections Alaya (1982), Of Gravity & Angels (1988), The October Palace (1994), The Lives of the Heart (1997) and Given Sugar, Given Salt (2001). This was followed by three later collections, After (2006), a Poetry Book Society Choice, which was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize, Come, Thief (2012), and The Beauty (2015), and the lecture collection Hiddenness, Surprise, Uncertainty: Three Generative Energies of Poetry. Ledger is published in paperback by Bloodaxe Books.
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Author portrait © Curt Richter