Read Wild Gratitude Online

Authors: Edward Hirsch

Wild Gratitude


Copyright © 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985 by Edward Hirsch

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.
Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC, New York, a Penguin Random House Company, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Distributed by Random House LLC.

Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.

Owing to limitations of space, all acknowledgments for permission to reprint previously published material can be found on
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eBook ISBN: 978-0-307-76198-9
Print ISBN: 978-0-375-71012-4

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hirsch, Edward.
Wild gratitude
I. Title.
5 1986 811’.54 85-40348
0-375-71012-4 (pbk.)

First Edition, hardcover and paperback, published January 23, 1986
Reissued, with new cover, March 2003
Reprinted One Time
Third Printing, September 2010


For my parents, Irma and Kurt Hirsch,
and my sisters, Arlene and Nancy Hirsch—
and for Janet Landay


May I, composed like them

Of Eros and of dust,

Beleaguered by the same

Negation and despair,

Show an affirming flame.

                             —W.H. A

I Need Help

For all the insomniacs in the world

I want to build a new kind of machine

For flying out of the body at night.

This will win peace prizes, I know it,

But I can’t do it myself; I’m exhausted,

I need help from the inventors.

I admit I’m desperate, I know

That the legs in my legs are trembling

And the skeleton wants out of my body

Because the night of the rock has fallen.

I want someone to lower a huge pulley

And hoist it back over the mountain

Because I can’t do it alone. It is

So dark out here that I’m staggering

Down the street like a drunk or a cripple;

I’m almost a hunchback from trying to hold up

The sky by myself. The clouds are enormous

And I need strength from the weight lifters.

How many nights can I go on like this

Without a single light from the sky: no moon,

No stars, not even one dingy street lamp?

I want to hold a rummage sale for the clouds

And send up flashlights, matchbooks, kerosene,

And old lanterns. I need bright, fiery donations.

And how many nights can I go on walking

Through the garden like a ghost listening

To flowers gasping in the dirt—small mouths

Gulping for air like tiny black asthmatics

Fighting their bodies, eating the wind?

I need the green thumbs of a gardener.

And I need help from the judges. Tonight

I want to court-martial the dark faces

That flare up under the heavy grasses—

So many blank moons, so many dead mouths

Holding their breath in the shallow ground,

Almost breathing. I have no idea why

My own face is never among them, but

I want to stop blaming myself for this,

I want to hear the hard gavel in my chest

Pounding the verdict, “Not guilty as charged,”

But I can’t do this alone, I need help

From the serious men in black robes.

And because I can’t lift the enormous weight

Of this enormous night from my shoulders

I need help from the six pallbearers of sleep

Who rise out of the slow, vacant shadows

To hoist the body into an empty coffin.

I need their help to fly out of myself.


Fall, falling, fallen. That’s the way the season

Changes its tense in the long-haired maples

That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves

Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition

With the final remaining cardinals) and then

Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last

Settling into colorful layers carpeting the ground.

At twilight the light, too, is layered in the trees

In a season of odd, dusky congruences—a scarlet tanager

And the odor of burning leaves, a golden retriever

Loping down the center of a wide street and the sun

Setting behind smoke-filled trees in the distance,

A gap opening up in the treetops and a bruised cloud

Blamelessly filling the space with purples. Everything

Changes and moves in the split second between summer’s

Sprawling past and winter’s hard revision, one moment

Pulling out of the station according to schedule,

Another moment arriving on the next platform. It

Happens almost like clockwork: the leaves drift away

From their branches and gather slowly at our feet,

Sliding over our ankles, and the season begins moving

Around us even as its colorful weather moves us,

Even as it pulls us into its dusty, twilit pockets.

And every year there is a brief, startling moment

When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and

Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless

Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air:

It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies;

It is the changing light of fall falling on us.


I lie down on my side in the moist grass

And drift into a fitful half-sleep, listening

To the hushed sound of wind in the trees.

The moon comes out to stare—glassy, one-eyed—

But then turns away from the ground, smudged.

It’s October, and the nights are getting cold:

The sky is tinged with purple, speckled red.

The clouds gather like an omen above the house

And I can’t stop thinking about my closest friend

Suffering from cancer in a small, airless ward

In a hospital downtown. At 37 he looks

Boyish and hunted, fingered by illness, scared.

When I was a boy the summer nights were immense—

Clear as a country lake, pure, bottomless.

The stars were like giant kites, casting loose.…

The fall nights were different—schoolbound, close—

With too many stormy clouds, too many rules.

The rain was a hammer banging against the house,

Beating against my head. Sometimes I’d wake up

In the middle of a cruel dream, coughing

And lost, unable to breathe in my sleep.

My friend says the pain is like a mule

Kicking him in the chest, again and again,

Until nothing else but the pain seems real.

Tonight the wind whispers a secret to the trees,

Something stark and unsettling, something terrible

Since the yard begins to tremble, shedding leaves.

I know that my closest friend is going to die

And I can feel the dark sky tilting on one wing,

Shuddering with rain, coming down around me.

Fast Break

In Memory of Dennis Turner, 1946–1984

A hook shot kisses the rim and

hangs there, helplessly, but doesn’t drop,

and for once our gangly starting center

boxes out his man and times his jump

perfectly, gathering the orange leather

from the air like a cherished possession

and spinning around to throw a strike

to the outlet who is already shoveling

an underhand pass toward the other guard

scissoring past a flat-footed defender

who looks stunned and nailed to the floor

in the wrong direction, trying to catch sight

of a high, gliding dribble and a man

letting the play develop in front of him

in slow motion, almost exactly

like a coach’s drawing on the blackboard,

both forwards racing down the court

the way that forwards should, fanning out

and filling the lanes in tandem, moving

together as brothers passing the ball

between them without a dribble, without

a single bounce hitting the hardwood

until the guard finally lunges out

and commits to the wrong man

while the power-forward explodes past them

in a fury, taking the ball into the air

by himself now and laying it gently

against the glass for a lay-up,

but losing his balance in the process,

inexplicably falling, hitting the floor

with a wild, headlong motion

for the game he loved like a country

and swiveling back to see an orange blur

floating perfectly through the net.

The Emaciated Horse

Chinese painting of the Yüan Dynasty

               It was as if I had stumbled alone

into another world, someone else’s dream

                         of floating jade mountains, a stone cliff

    dropping to a moonlit blue lake

                             surrounded by willows, one village

               winking through the distant clouds,

                         another puckering in the gray mist

like a paper orchid wrinkling in water.

               It was as if I had somehow stumbled

into someone else’s mind: in one painting

                         I knelt beside a small, middle-aged

    woman on a muddy riverbank,

                             gossiping, wringing out laundry;

               in another I stood on a steep ridge

                         staring into the forehead of heaven,

shoulder to shoulder with the lightning.

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