Chapter Excerpt

For the Sleepwalkers

Tonight I want to say something wonderful
for the sleepwalkers who have so much faith
in their legs, so much faith in the invisible

arrow carved into the carpet, the worn path
that leads to the stairs instead of the window,
the gaping doorway instead of the seamless mirror.

I love the way that sleepwalkers are willing
to step out of their bodies into the night,
to raise their arms and welcome the darkness,

palming the blank spaces, touching everything.
Always they return home safely, like blind men
who know it is morning by feeling shadows.

And always they wake up as themselves again.
That’s why I want to say something astonishing
like:Our hearts are leaving our bodies.

Our hearts are thirsty black handkerchiefs
flying through the trees at night, soaking up
the darkest beams of moonlight, the music

of owls, the motion of wind- torn branches.
And now our hearts are thick black fists
flying back to the glove of our chests.


We have to learn to trust our hearts like that.
We have to learn the desperate faith of sleepwalkers
who rise out of their calm beds

and walk through the skin of another life.
We have to drink the stupefying cup of darkness
and wake up to ourselves, nourished and surprised.



The Poet At Seven

He could be any seven- year-old on the lawn,
holding a baseball in his hand, ready to throw.
He has the middle- class innocence of an American,

except for his blunt features and dark skin
that mark him as a Palestinian or a Jew,
his forehead furrowed like a question,

his concentration camp eyes, nervous, grim,
and too intense. He has the typical
blood of the exile, the refugee, the victim.

Look at him looking at the catcher for a sign—
so violent and competitive, so unexceptional,
except for an ancestral lamentation,

a shadowy, grief- stricken need for freedom
laboring to express itself through him.



M i l k

My mother wouldn’t be cowed into nursing
and decided that formula was healthier
than the liquid from her breasts.

And so I never sucked a single drop
from the source, a river dried up.
It was always bottled for me.

But one night in my mid- thirties
in a mirrored room off Highway 59
a woman who had a baby daughter

turned to me with an enigmatic smile
and cupped my face in her chapped hands
and tipped her nipple into my mouth.

This happened a long time ago in another city
and it is wrong to tell about it.
It was infantile to bring it up in therapy.

And yet it is one of those moments—
misplaced, involuntary—that swim up
out of the past without a conscience:

She lifts my face and I taste it—
the sudden spurting nectar,
the incurable sweetness that is life.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Excerpted from The Living Fire by Edward Hirsch
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.