Startled


Picture by Külli Kittus

Jane Hirshfield's poetry is informed by her study of Zen. She is known to have said her wish is "to be translucently awake." May you be awakened today by something delightful!


"I Wanted to Be Surprised"

by Jane Hirshfield


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.


—2018


This poem is published in Ledger (Knopf, 2020), a collection of poetry by Jane Hirshfield; it first appeared in The New Yorker.