Poet Jane Hirshfield ’73’s ninth book of poetry, Ledger (Knopf), was published March 10. She wrote this poem March 17, the day that the San Francisco Bay Area’s six-county shelter-in-place protocol went into effect.
Today, When I Could Do Nothing
Today, when I could do nothing,
I saved an ant.
It must have come in with the morning paper,
still being delivered
to those who shelter in place.
A morning paper is still an essential service.
I am not an essential service.
I have coffee and books,
silence enough to fill cisterns.
It must have first walked
the morning paper, as if loosened ink
taking the shape of an ant.
Then across the laptop computer — warm —
then onto the back of a cushion.
Small black ant, alone,
crossing a navy cushion,
moving steadily because that is what it could do.
Set outside in the sun,
it could not have found again its nest.
What then did I save?
It did not move as if it was frightened,
even while walking my hand,
which moved it through swiftness and air.
Ant, alone, without companions,
whose ant-heart I could not fathom —
how is your life, I wanted to ask.
I lifted it, took it outside.
This first day when I could do nothing,
beyond staying distant from my own kind,
I did this.
PAW reached out to alumni who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis or are affected by it in different ways. Read their essays here. More will appear in our next two issues and online over the next few weeks. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your own story.