In the Evening of the Search

by Brenda Hillman

copyright ©2013 by Brenda Hillman

   Vastness of dusk, after a day –
        what is a person? Too late
to ask this now. The court has ruled
   a corporation is a person.
Persons used to be called souls.
   On the avenue, a lucky person
stands in a convenience store
   scratching powder from his ticket –
silver flecks fall from his thumbs
  to galaxies below.

                    Deep in the night
    a trough of chaos forms;
your lover’s body stops it every time.
  Meteors of the season over minnows
in the creek with two kinds of crayfish,
    tiny mouths & claws
      – nervous, perfect, perfect
life – the flesh of a dreamer,
  facing the wall –

   Around each word you’re reading
there spins the unknowable flame.
      When you wake, a style
 of world shakes free
   from the dream. It doesn’t stop
      when you go out;
it doesn’t stop when you come back
    as you were meant to-

Notes on the Poem

Brenda Hillman's Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire won the 2014 International Griffin Poetry Prize. 2014 Griffin Poetry Prize judge Robert Bringhurst selected her poem "In the Evening of the Search" from that collection for that year's anthology. It's a wonderful choice that quietly surprises on repeated readings. With each reading, we find ourselves unearthing fresh examples of images and ideas suggesting a struggle between pessimism and optimism in the poem. As this tussle produces different reactions each time, this observation from the judges' citation is applicable every time: "The mighty challenges of now are fully engaged." As the poem opens with "Vastness of dusk, after a day - what is a person?" Hillman captures succinctly and poignantly that end-of-day weariness and despair we've all felt at one time or another - or more so, more often nowadays? The crisp, sardonic "The court has ruled a corporation is a person. Persons used to be called souls." darkens things further. Does the next image swing just as emphatically to a sense of hope? Or are we just like those silver flecks, mere specks among the vast galaxies? Yes, perhaps so ... "Deep in the night a trough of chaos forms" ... but wait ... "your lover's body stops it every time." There is hope. We all have ways, means, resources, defences against whatever the world throws us into or tries to throw at us. Are the next words a frustrating intimation, pragmatic guidance or acceptance? "Around each word you're reading there spins the unknowable flame." However positively or negatively you interpret those words, what follows simply states that the world - some form of world - will always be there and will not stop. We must choose to go out, come back, do something, endure. It is as if Hillman has sent us out to face things, with a gentle push and a subtle benediction.

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