A Moment Travels the Visible Fraction at Dusk and Is Gone

By Hirshfield, Jane | The Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

A Moment Travels the Visible Fraction at Dusk and Is Gone


Hirshfield, Jane, The Virginia Quarterly Review


A few times in a life-any life-

a moment comes, a decision comes,

and then the essential thing happens or it does not.

It may be the soup suddenly trembles in its spoon,

caught between soup bowl and mouth,

and then the hand steadies.

The soup does not know the decision. It cools.

The spoon does not know.

The hand feels it, it feels it, but the hand does not know.

The hand grows steady again or it does not.

And in this instant, in all a life, the decision is made.

Thus Virgil, one midday, conceived the Aeneid,

and nothing altered around him,

not the chatter of songbirds-

nuthatches, thrushes-not the course of the Tiber.

Augustus murmurs "Actium?" and nothing changes.

A soldier who will die there on one side tends to his garden.

A soldier who will die for the other plays hide-and-seek with his sons.

Where then is such a moment registered in the annals?

Not in the dispassionate stars.

Not in the house cat who glances over,

bored with the room's now-steepening stillness

and its one, slow-moving hand. …

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