These times bring up all the times of plenty and of want that characterize our lives. Surprise at the plethora of strawberries in the store, across from a bare shelf where eggs and butter have been grabbed by earlier shoppers. Feeling both grateful at all we still have and trying to drown out the anxiety of not now knowing for how long that will be true. Jane Hirshfield published a poem in the SF Chronicle about saving an ant while sheltering in place, but I find this old favorite more appropriate for the times.
My mind spends less time pondering the experience of being cooped up, instead obsessing about the essence of our lives—about who and what is necessary when so much has been stripped away. That’s what this poem has always meant to me.
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It was like this: you were happy
It was like this:
you were happy, then you were sad,
then happy again, then not.
It went on.
You were innocent or you were guilty.
Actions were taken, or not.
At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.
Mostly, it seems you were silent — what could you say?
Now it is almost over.
Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.
It does this not in forgiveness –
between you, there is nothing to forgive –
but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.
Eating, too, is now a thing only for others.
It doesn’t matter what they will make of you
or your days: they will be wrong,
they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,
all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.
Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,
you slept, you awakened.
Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.
– Jane Hirshfield