Slow Dancer Press
28 pages, softcover, A5 pamphlet
the poet, for $5 or £2.50 (includes postage)
Since all of life is just a way of going home,
I’m here again, in love with you, my dearest,
taking the evening stroll in the piazza
in my broad straw hat with the paisley band,
greeting the stylish citizens of Siena,
“Buona sera, buona sera.”
I first came here in ’38, brought by my parents.
The happiest time of their lives,
they said years later — giddy
with relief at their escape, still certain
they could get their parents out next. Who could
blame them for succumbing to the warm
Tuscan autumn, purple grapes, blood oranges,
the large-hearted language and mellifluous people?
The rhapsody ended when they heard the news —
Their parents had been murdered:
(“…They didn’t know how to run…they tied their wrists
to the back of a truck and made them run…)”
From then until their own deaths,
they knew they had stolen the apple.
Millions of poppies in the fields across
the farm where we stay, pointillist red on green.
At night, a sparkle of fireflies.
I feel weepy, afraid,
for if I say this (is) (was) the happiest
time of my life (it is!) (it was!), I’ve dared
be happier than my parents, deciding
to survive even when others might drown.
In The Universal Judgment —
an altar panel in the Basilica —
the saved, to the left, draped
in damask coats and moire gowns, walk about
in orchards of figs and arbors of grapes,
amazed at their escape; gather in clusters
in quiet recollection with family
and old friends, amazed, forever amazed.
To the right are the damned: naked, draped
by black hominids mutilating breasts
and genitals; bodies piled in fiery baths
and frigid pools, rapes and poisonous vapors.
The dark between the final chitter
of the swifts and the aubade of the thrush
is called le ore blu, the Blue Hours,
when the land relaxes, blue vapors float
through the trees, the trees breathe in the heat,
and stars drift in eternal promenade —
while in the beds and cemeteries of Siena,
lovers drift in dreamless, permanent sleep.
Old stone houses lean toward each other
as if in quiet recollection, woven
together by cobblestone lanes. Each way
seems to return upon itself, familiar
but different — with just a small tilt of the head,
an infinity of compositions:
chimney on bell, bell on basilica,
angels on clotheslines, a geranium pot
red-spotting a sill, angles and corners
and curves. By chance, we look up to see
a blood-orange moon rising in the needle’s-
eye between two steeples.
Why are women so beautiful in any
country to which I’ve just come? Here I love
their henna-red hair, their bold walk, over-
made mouths, the cigarette voices.
Each way comes back to way. It was on this same
cobbled lane I once told you I couldn’t decide.
What if you had then turned to the left and I
to the right? I believe our ways would have returned,
returning each to Siena, our bolt-hole
from life. Wouldn’t your henna-red hair catch my eye,
disappearing down a curved lane, or across
a piazza with mass just letting out?
A Gregorian chant resonates, coheres
to millenial layers of hum
impressed on the permanent stone.
St. Catherine of Siena went to a man
about to be hanged and “brought him to a state of grace,”
refreshed him, consoled and forgave
his years of rage as orphan, cut-purse, bravo,
gave him faith of an existence
beyond himself — how I feel when,
in my moments of incendiary
self-loathing, you call, and your voice,
like baptism, cooling me.
If grace is true, the mussels in garlic
and cool vernaccia, a hot bath with you,
and that moment we both chewed your hair that slipped
into your mouth, are gifts beyond understanding.
St. Bernadino’s skull lies in a glass
and gold reliquary, along with a few
long bones, knuckles of vertebrae, a pelvis.
St. Bernadino was canonized
for reviving freshly dead children.
I’ve done that myself and more than once.
The real miracle is the opportunity.
Who and what gave me to my life — surely
had my father that night turned to the left,
my mother to the right, surely wouldn’t
another night have still brought me to writing this,
have brought me? Perhaps I am that other night.
is a Tuscan soup made of
white beans, a head of purple garlic,
knuckles of old bread, kale and white cabbage,
vegetables and stock. It’s meant to be
reheated and stored, reheated and stored,
for unexpected guests who come to the door.
The soup is renewed by adding in more
old bread, more stock, more beans.
In a chapel in the Duomo of Siena
a young woman in bronze, life-size, holds up
a salver filled with oil — the light lit daily —
in adoration of the Madonna and Child
in the niche. As clouds play across the sky,
light from the oriel strokes her beatific
face and long-braided hair. I circle her and
circle her, I almost want to take her
in my arms until, with no embarrassment,
I stroke her permanent cheek. I feel something
like a moment of grace. I will die,
but not for what I am.
The evening swifts emerge from oriels
in the brick walls of the palazzi,
random black darts against a royal-blue
canopy and parmesan moon.
Bless stones. Bless children. Bless light.
Bless swifts. Bless saints. Bless soup.
“Hirschhorn transcends his past, takes in other religions, delights in their logic and observances. Here is love. Here is poetry so rich in modern wonder that I want to quote it, pass it on.
“These poems are full of a wisdom and a depth I see very rarely in poetry… This is a beautiful book, one to be cherished, and if some major British publisher doesn’t bring us a full collection soon, there’s no justice.”
—Steven Waling, Poetry Quarterly Review, 2000, Nether Stowey, Somerset, England
“Hirschhorn’s poems travel from Minnesota to Cambodia to Java, effortlessly — what connects them is the confidence of his voice, which is at once very personal and direct.”
—Poetry London Newsletter, London, England