Jane Hirshfield
Studying Wu Wei, Muir Beach

There are days when you go
out into the bright spring fields
with the blue halter, the thick length
of rope with its sky-and-cloud braiding,
even the bucket of grain--
all corn-and-molasses sweetness,
the maraca sound of shaken seduction--
and the one you have gone for simply will not be caught.
It could be that the grass that day is too ripe.
It could be the mare who comes over, jutting her body
between his and yours. It could be
the wild-anise breeze that wanders in and out of his mane.
He might nip at the smallest mouthful,
but your hands' slightest rising-- no matter how slow,
how cautious-- breaks him away.
He doesn't have to run, though he knows he could.
Knows he is faster, stronger, less tied.
He knows he can take you or leave you in the dust.
But set aside purpose, leave the buckles and clasps
of intention draped over the fence, come forward
with both hands fully exposed, and he greedily eats.
Allows you to fondle his ears, scratch his neck, pull out
the broken half-carrot his whiskered lips accept
tenderly from your palm. The mare edges close, and he
lays back one ear; the other stays pricked toward you,
in utmost attention. Whatever you came for,
this is what you will get: at best, a tempered affection
while red-tails circle and lupine shifts in the wind.
It is hard not to want to coerce a world that
takes what it pleases and walks away, but Do not-doing,
proposed Lao-tsu-- and this horse. Today the world is tired.
It wants to lie down in green grass and stain its grey shoulders.
It wants to be left to study the non-human field,
to hold its own hungers, not yours, between its teeth.
Not words, but the sweetness of fennel. Not thought,
but the placid rituals of horse-dung and flies.
Nuzzling the festive altars from plantain to mustard,
from budded thistle to bent-stemmed rye. Feasting and flowering
and sleeping in every muscle, every muzzle, every bone it has.

© 1995 by Jane Hirshfield.

Jane Hirshfield's most recent books are The October Palace (HarperCollins, 1994), and an anthology, Women in Praise of the Sacred (HarperCollins, 1994). She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, Pushcart Prize, and other honors. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Nation, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. "Studying Wu Wei, Muir Beach" appeared in the anthology Women on Hunting, edited by Pam Houston.