Pick-a-Poem: “The Problem”


Welcome, readers, to another weekly installment of “Pick-a-Poem.” Every Wednesday, we pick a poem and feature it here on the blog. Hopefully this exposes you to some poetry that you wouldn’t have read or discovered otherwise. If not, at least it gives you a weekly dose of verse in your life. These featured poems come from Poetry Daily, which is a great site that features a new poem and poet every single day. This week we feature The Problem by Jane Hirshfield.

According to her bio page on Poetry Daily, Jane Hirshfield has written seven collections of poetry, the most recent of which is The Beauty: Poems (Knopf, 2015). She has also written two books of essays and several books that collect the work of poets from the past, which she helped to translate. She currently serves as the chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She has received many awards, including a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Center Book Award.

The Problem by Jane Hirshfield

You are trying to solve a problem.
You’re almost certainly halfway done,
maybe more.

You take some salt, some alum,
and put it into the problem.
Its color goes from yellow to royal blue.

You tie a knot of royal blue into the problem,
as into a Peruvian quipu of colored string.

You enter the problem’s bodegas,
its flea markets, souks.
Amid the alleys of sponges and sweets,
of jewelry, spices, and hair combs,
you ponder which stall, which pumpkin or perfume, is yours.

You go inside the problem’s piano.
You choose three keys.
One surely must open the door of the problem,
if only you knew only this:
is the quandary edible or medical,
a problem of reason or grief?

It is looking back at you now
with the quizzical eyes of a young, bright dog.

Her whole body pitched for the fetch,
the dog wants to please.
If only she could ascertain which direction,
what object, which scent of riddle,
and if the problem is round or elliptical in its orbit,
and if it is measured in foot-pounds, memory, or meat.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s featured poem! For more posts like this, click this link.

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

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