One of the books that lives in the pile on my bedside table is a collection of interviews with poets - Fooling With Words by Bill Moyers (you won't spot it in this pic because right now it's on my bed!). . .
On page 110, Jane Hirshfield introduces her poem Mule Heart with the following story -
"I was in Greece many years ago and saw how they put pannier baskets on the sides of the mules to carry things up and down the steep coastline. In the poem, the basket placed on the one side of the stubborn heart is filled with all the things you would want to keep: the fragrant lemons, the things you love. The other basket is for holding your griefs, your sorrows, everything that has abandoned you - which of course by the end of our lives will be everything, including our lives themselves. Each of these aspects of life the mule heart must carry: it carries our joys, and it carries our suffering. Maybe the two baskets mean that they balance, somehow.
Many years passed between my seeing the little mules of Santorini and writing the poem. I wrote it to help me get through a time in my life when I thought a certain stubbornness would help. I told myself, 'Just last out the moment, and rely on the truth that everything changes; if you can simply hang in there, you'll be alright.' And from that feeling, the poem came. A wonderful thing about poetry is that at any moment a poem draws on everything you have ever known, seen, experienced. A poem is like those baskets, needing to be filled, and so your whole life must be available to each poem as you write it. This poem needed those mules, their flies and braided, belled bridles. Sometimes I think that poems use us in order to think, to their own work. You know, most of the time I feel as if I am in service of the poem - a poem isn't something I make, it's something I serve. . . "
On the days when the rest
have failed you,
let this much be yours -
flies, dust, an unnameable odor,
the two waiting baskets:
one for the lemons and passion,
the other for all that you have lost.
it will come to your shoulder,
breathe slowly against your bare arm.
If you offer it hay, it will eat.
it will stand as long as you ask.
The little bells of the bridle will hang
beside you quietly,
in the heat and the tree's thin shade.
Do not let its sparse mane deceive you,
or the way the left ear swivels into dream.
This too is a gift of the gods,
calm and complete.
For more Tuesday Poems, please click on the quill.
Janis Freegard has chosen This new place, a tender poem by Robert McGonigal
Donations for Christchurch - creative & financial - are coming in from near and far. The basket is filling. . . Please click on the MoA link below to view new artworks as they're being added to the Stockroom. THANK YOU XO