Weekly Poem: Brenda Hillman reads ‘Till it Finishes What it Does’

BY Victoria Fleischer  November 25, 2013 at 2:26 PM EST


Brenda Hillman reads “Till it Finishes What it Does” from her new collection “Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire.”

Till it Finishes What it Does

Where is the meaning, the old man asked.
The night nurse has put on
his little frowning socks; he lay
on his lifebed, in the dusk, holding
the tail of a comet. Outside
the hospital, creosote;
the cactus wren is such a good packer.
Granite, wild at the hands
of quartz rose in the saddle
of the mountains (i’m writing this
with a pharmaceutical pen,
at the nexus of science & magic) …

When all visitors
had left the room,
the tiny valvue of the pig beat inside
our father’s heart, like the spokes
of the sun-disk, in a hieroglyph–
above the squiggly river symbol,
like meaning & its tributaries,
nothingness & art … Active one,
the animal is not your emissary.
It is not the decoration you sought;
its beauty runs without your will.
It drives the mystical heart.

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“Season Works with Letters on Fire” (Wesleyan University Press, 2013) is Brenda Hillman’s 10th collection. Her previous books include Practical Water (Wesleyan University Press, 2010), for which she won the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Poetry. Hillman is the Olivia Filippi Professor of Poetry at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, California.

Check back on Art Beat on Tuesday to watch Brenda Hillman’s conversation with chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown about her new collection, “Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire,” her connection to the elements, and her understanding of social justice and being an activist.