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'A Poet Is Quite Prepared For A Pandemic,' Says 'Ledger' Author Jane Hirshfield

April is National Poetry Month. All this month, we've been asking listeners to tweet us their poems. Each week, we enlist a celebrated poet to help us read through some of the submissions. Click the audio link to hear poet Jane Hirshfield read a handful of her favorites.

In unpredictable times, poetry can offer much needed reassurance, says poet Jane Hirshfield.

"In a way, a poet is quite prepared for a pandemic," Hirshfield says in an interview with NPR's All Things Considered, "because we're always trying to look into the most difficult things and find a way to navigate to a deeper relationship to those events."

As the first shelter-in-place orders were being rolled out in California, the Bay Area poet exercised that preparation. She wrote a poem that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, titled "Today When I Could Do Nothing," which offers a slice of the socially-distanced life.

Hirshfield's ninth book of poems, Ledger,came out last month. You can read an excerpted poem from the new collection below.

"Vest" by Jane Hirshfield

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.

Ledger copyright 2020 by Jane Hirshfield. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC, New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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