American Life in Poetry

In this fascinating poem by the California poet Jane Hirshfield, the speaker discovers that through paying attention to an event, she has become part of it, and has indeed become inseparable from the event and its implications. This is more than an act of empathy. It speaks, in my reading of it, to the perception of an order into which all creatures and events are fitted, and are essential.

The Woodpecker Keeps Returning

The woodpecker keeps returning
to drill the house wall.
Put a pie plate over one place, he chooses another.

There is nothing good to eat there:
he has found in the house
a resonant billboard to post his intentions,
his voluble strength as provider.

But where is the female he drums for? Where?

I ask this, who am myself the ruined siding,
the handsome red-capped bird, the missing mate.

Poem copyright (c) 2005 by Jane Hirshfield from her forthcoming book "After" (Harper Collins, 2006), and reprinted by permission of the author. This column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

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