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Cesar Vallejo; the new title poem, “Wild Gratitude,” finds spiritual consolation in the Moore-like attentiveness to nature of the deranged, mistreated, and ecstatic poet, Christopher Smart: But it wasn’t until tonight when I knelt down And slipped my hand into Zooey’s waggling mouth That I remembered how he’d called Jeoffry “the servant Of the Living God duly and daily serving Him,” And for the first time understood what it meant…. And only then did I understand it is Jeoffry and every creature like him– Who can teach us how to praisepurring In their own language, Wreathing themselves in the living fire. Wild Gratitude contains as well a poem called “The Night Parade,” a homage to American composer Charles Ives, which aspires to Ives’s eclectic and serio-comic atmospheres. The “parade” is filled with more denizens of night-visions, and with the sleepwalkers and the insomniacs, and presumably the poets, who suffer to see things that the rest of us are content to catch up with by sunlight, secondhand. The greatest moments of the night parade Take place under the open tent where muscular Sleepwalkers tiptoe across tightropes, carefully Holding up umbrellas, and two married acrobats Float through miles and miles of empty space Just to hold hands on a wooden platform Hammered into the air. Everyone laughs When the clowns of sleep mimic the lions, Tower over the midgets, and pinch the backsides Of beautiful bareback riders. And everyone Drifts home slowly when the half-moon dims And confetti falls from the sky like applause. Hirsch’s first two books cover virtually a decade’s worth of poems, and they -show a dramatic development of voice, to an assured confidence and openness of subject matter. For the Sleepwalkers is the work of a very talented youne, writer, yet one with more technique and grandiloquence than material. Wild Gratitude is a fully achieved book, whose still-youthful poems form a remarkable addition to our literature, and which move toward a lyric self-revelation that is neither aggrandizing or lachrymose. The new book, also called The Night Parade, carries on in this remarkable strength of voice and manner, and does so with material increasingly close to the poet’s heart: personal and family memories, across a wide range of experience and emotion. Handling personal material is a difficult and risky business, always in danger of falling into the obvious or the sentimental. But these poems are confident, unblinking, and powerful, and Hirsch’s technique is as delicate and sure as a surgeon’s. Borrowing a phrase from John Clare, he calls the poems “memorandums of my affections, / To stave off the absolute,” the “absolute” carrying the sense both of unmediated idealism and the whisper of death. Memories of human attention, and the light given off by ordinary things, are shields against loss and suffering because, as Hirsch declares flatly in “Incandescence at Dusk,” they are all we have: “I don’t believe in ultimate things. / I don’t believe in the inextinguishable light / of the other world. / I don’t believe that we will be lifted up / and trans’fixed by radiance. / One incandescent dusky world is all there is.” This remains romanticism of a sort, but it is Wordsworth’s sort, not Rossetti’sor maybe better, it is William Carlos Williams’s sort, the celebration of the light given off by the particular and the ordinary. For Hirsch, thus far, that celebration is mainly by recollection in tranquillity of a Chicago childhood \(although there are other poems as well, on subjects ranging from the black plagtie, to the language of contemporary torture, to the inparade walk his grandparents and parents, his siblings and relatives, and the friends of his youth; and while his memories are not untroubled, his mind eases toward epiphanies like that remembered in “Rapture,” beneath the eyes of his mother: Something in the way she tilted her head To gaze down at the wire hangers and rubber balls That I had constructed as a science project On the motion of planetary bodies Pierced through me Like a silver blade glinting in the white sunlight, Or a few haunting notes rising out of a late quartet, Or the sudden stabbing rage of happiness… The Night Parade is organized in four sections, and section three, “Family Stories,” is a single extended meditation on the poet’s place in the family tradition, beginning with his mother’s memories of his grandfather, and moving by almost imperceptible degrees \(in reconstructing and taking her own place in the family tale. We pass on what we can of the past Which isn’t mucha few names and places, A few recollections around the kitchen table With the photograph albums that her mother and father Saved from a fire that destroyed their apartment One summer in Houston. By now her son Edward Is beginning to squirm and cry, but she Pauses for one more moment on the bridge To imagine her parents daydreaming to gether… How their lives went on and wore down, intertwined, How they died and left her in a light rain With these memories, letters, fragments, stories. That oblique, rare reference to Houston Hirsch has taught at the. University of Houston for several yearsseems almost out of place amidst these mostly Chicagoan memories. Chicago is nearly a character in this book, not only as a setting for Hirsch’s own memories, but as a paradigm of the American city, exemplary in that it was rebuilt, virtually from scratch, after the 1871 fire. They stood in the cooling ashes without grief And imagined their future Rising out of the blue lake as A man-made mountain range, A city that aspired upward toward the sky. These are homeboy memories, domestic and heroic, and I suppose that their impact is deepened upon me because I too am a transplanted Chicagoan, and Hirsch’s recollections find so many public and private echoes in my own. It seems worth remarking that despite its title, The Night Parade is much less troubled by the insomnia of the earlier books, as though Hirsch has found in the reconstruction of his past a balm to his uneasy spirit. Like Wild Gratitude, this is a wonderfully conceived and fully realized collection, and a book to revisit again and again. If I have a niggling objection, it is that Houston or Texas scenes are yet to appear in Hirsch’s verse in more than passing ways, as in “Evening Star,” an evocation of the young Georgia O’Keefe. But I am patient; I can wait. In the meantime, I can also highly recommend Hirsch’s “memorandums” which, if they do not embody the absolute, do hold as much transcendence as most of us can bear. We will be lifted up and carried a far distance On invisible wings And then set down in an empty field. We will carry our hearts in our bodies Over shadowy tunnels and bridges Someday we will let them go again, like kites. 20 DECEMBER 21, 1990