The Cloudy Vase
Past time, I threw the flowers out,
washed out the cloudy vase.
How easily the old clearness
leapt, like a practiced tiger, back inside it.
Jane Hirshfield, originally printed in McSweeney’s.
One of the balancing acts of the heart is between allegiance to what we are carrying in thought and the mind’s affections and allegiance to what is just here, this moment’s actual and entirely self-sufficient existence. Let us imagine, then, a story: A woman is far from her beloved, who sends flowers. A vase is found in a cupboard. The flowers are put on the table where she works, to remind her, as intended, of that other life, a life that can be returned to, where love still exists. After a time, the rose petals drop, the irises withdraw and their leaves dull, the delphinium turn introspective. At first, the woman recuts the stems, lifts out the ones that look worst. The last stalks stand in the vase for as long as, and longer than, makes any sense. Finally the whole arrangement is an undeniable wreck, and the flowers, the water with its exuberating algae, are emptied. The woman washes the vase and sets it down on the kitchen counter. What is left then is simple and undomesticable. The curve of empty, clear glass in the sunlight; the vanishment-tiger clarity that waits past the edge of every story.
Jane Hirshfield, Best American Poetry 2011, in an explication of “The Cloudy Vase.”