The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: “Still the Animals Enter” by Jane Hilberry

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“Squirrel with an Apple”

Sitting on its haunches, its back curved, a human-like pose,
it held a green apple and ate, its mouth moving fast as a machine—
so fast I thought it must be an illusion of the flickering leaves—
its mouth in furious, impersonal motion. It looked at me as its teeth ticked
and rotated the apple slowly in its paws. I wanted to be more interested
than I was, wished for a naturalist’s curiosity—then felt consigned
to be myself. It’s hard to know when to push to improve,
and when to simply say, this is what I am. I am the luckiest
in the world—born into stability, a genteel poverty that grew
quickly into enough. I have wine with dinner. I am well loved,
well employed. And no, this is not moving toward a but,
a lyric emptiness. I have been reading Larry Levis this morning.
I know that way: the poem that always swerves toward loneliness.
One of my students wishes I were her mother. She was hurt, tortured:
scalding baths, ground glass in the applesauce. But I can’t
be her mother. When the painter makes a mistake, something unsightly,
she says the remedy is to continue. To fill the hole the mother made
is a life-long, impossible task. I say this as if I knew something.
I’ve only learned to trust my body, which says sleep, sleep, sleep some more.
Says touch. Yellow-orange squash blossoms and the fat green
of the leaves. If there’s any cure, it is color, on the slab of paper, or
sown into dirt, the sky before dark when it arrays itself
in gauzy grays, and orange traces the underside of clouds. See,
this is not longing. A deep quiet rises sometimes, when I wait
in line at the grocery, the movies. Something I can rest in,
all opinions set aside, as if they could dissolve. They don’t.
They will be back. But this is real, an almost-sleepy peace,
my back straight, hands slack, among the breathing others.


This selection comes from Jane Hilberry’s poetry collection Still the Animals Enter, available now from Red Hen Press. Purchase your copy here.

Jane Hilberry‘s previous collection, Body Painting, won the Colorado Book Award for Poetry. Her poems have appeared in the Hudson ReviewDenver QuarterlyColumbia Poetry Review and many other journals. With her father Conrad Hilberry, she co-authored This Awkward Art: Poems by a Father and Daughter, introduced by Richard Wilbur. Her interest in visual art led her to edit a letterpress volume titled The Burden of the Beholder: Dave Armstrong and the Art of Collage and to write a book of biography/art criticism called The Erotic Art of Edgar Britton. She also co-authored, with Mary Lynn Pulley, a little book about email. In addition to teaching Creative Writing, Creativity, and Literature at Colorado College, she has facilitated creativity workshops and arts-based leadership development programs across the United States and at The Banff Centre in Canada.

Beth Couture currently serves as both a Board Member and an Assistant Editor at Sundress Publications. Her work can be found in a number of journals and anthologies, including Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, The Southeast Review, Ragazine, and Thirty Under Thirty from Starcherone Books. Her novella, Women Born with Fur, was published by Jaded Ibis Press in 2014 as part of its Blue Bustard Novellas series. She is currently working on her Master’s in Social Work at Bryn Mawr College, and she lives in West Philly with her husband and five cats.

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