“Wetness: An Assay” by Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield


Take a square, a circle.
Flip it over, ask it to rotate: its face stays the same.
An isosceles triangle
doesn’t choose which of its sides.
A blinking light
declares the whole night its far-off mountain.
A person, tilted a single degree,
knows their life altered.
Ever after, knows themselves guest in their own house.
Sometimes you see rain first, sometimes you hear it.
Wind doesn’t come from all directions at once.
But anywhere rain is, that place is wet.
Wetness: knowledge of pelt, of hide, of skin.
Dear, ungovernable, shivering.

from Rattle #83, Spring 2024


Jane Hirshfield: “I first wrote a poem and subtitled it ‘an assay,’ in 2002. I thought it was a one-time event. That poem needed, I felt, some explanation for its unusual gait, its mode of thinking by almost prose-like propositions. I came to the term through both the assaying machines of science, which disassemble a substance into its component parts, and the French essayer, the sense of an experimental ‘try’ that lies also behind the word for ‘essay,’ a form that thinks its way through its subject in often-meandering but still measured and measuring ways … ‘Wetness: An Assay’ is a loose embodiment of this form I’ve worked in for what’s now been over twenty years—but the poem gained something for me when I tried on this title. Its stanzas do feel to me a series of small tries. It wants to discover something about what it is to be an abstraction, what it is to be a perceived and perceiving light in the large dark, and finally what it is to be a person: susceptible to shifting and unpredictable experience, vulnerable to everything around us, sometimes soaked through to the skin—and finding that soaked state beloved.”

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