Jane Hirshfield, “All the Difficult Hours and Minutes”

Really, there is no better beginning. All the difficult hours and minutes are like salted plums in a jar. You taste the sweet, the sour, the salt all too much. Too much, purposefully. You collected every single hour and minute and worked to preserve each of them. Their singular intensity is your doing:

All the Difficult Hours and Minutes (from Poetry)
Jane Hirshfield

All the difficult hours and minutes
are like salted plums in a jar.
Wrinkled, turn steeply into themselves,
they mutter something the color of sharkfins to the glass.
Just so, calamity turns toward calmness.
First the jar holds the umeboshi, then the rice does.

The poem demonstrates wisdom in not turning to blame. It only documents how one’s collection of difficult hours and minutes turns. Wrinkled, turn steeply into themselves, they mutter something the color of sharkfins to the glass. The difficult hours and minutes are personified — we can see ourselves in the wrinkles, the steep turn inward, the muttering of something indistinct and partially violent — but they are emphatically not us. They’re in a jar, being preserved, and it is up to us to use them.

I wonder how our preservation of a moment, our sometimes purposeful anxiety, can completely overwhelm our sense of control. It’s so strange that we should completely identify with an object, even an object within us. To be clear, Hirshfield displays a distinctive wisdom. She didn’t avoid my question by focusing on plums in a jar. Her poem preserves it in making our preservation of a personified object its conceit.

How did I invest so much in a difficult time? How did I let regret become an unstable mountain of bricks? Just so, calamity turns toward calmness. It isn’t clear whether one recognizes that one has more self-control, or whether circumstance forces one to use more self-control — calamity, to say the least, is a very strong word. Those salted plums were preserved by my willpower for a variety of reasons, some of them secretly good. They were meant to be a delicacy, brought out at the right time, making the dish not just worthwhile, but spectacular. First the jar holds the umeboshi, then the rice does.

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