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"Poem with Two Endings"

by Jane Hirshfield

Say "death" and the whole room freezes—
even the couches stop moving,
even the lamps.
Like a squirrel suddenly aware it is being looked at.

Say the word continuously,
and things begin to go forward.
Your life takes on
the jerky texture of an old film strip.

Continue saying it,
hold it moment after moment inside the mouth,
it becomes another syllable.
A shopping mall swirls around the corpse of a beetle.

Death is voracious, it swallows all the living.
Life is voracious, it swallows all the dead.
Neither is ever satisfied, neither is ever filled,
each swallows and swallows the world.

The grip of life is as strong as the grip of death.




(but the vanished, the vanished beloved, o where?)


Jane HirshfieldThe speaker of Jane Hirshfield's "Poem with Two Endings" meditates on the cyclical nature of beginnings and endings while experiencing the finality of loss.

Hirshfield has received countless honors and awards for her many books of poetry. A student of Zen Buddhism, she has translated Japanese poetry and edited the anthology Women in Praise of the Sacred: Three Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women.

"Poem with Two Endings," from Given Sugar, Given Salt © 2001 by Jane Hirshfield, used by permission of the author and HarperCollins Publishers Inc.