Habit

Habit

Habit

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A weekly poem, read by the author.
March 15 2000 3:00 AM

Habit

The shoes put on each time
left first, then right.

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The morning potion's teaspoon
of sweetness stirred always
for seven circlings—no fewer, no more—
into the cracked blue cup.

Touching the pocket for wallet,
for keys,
before closing the door.

How did we come
to believe these small rituals' promise,
that we are today the selves we yesterday knew,
tomorrow will be?

How intimate and unthinking,
the way the toothbrush is shaken dry after use,
the part we wash first in the bath.

Which habits we learned from others
and which are ours alone we may never know.
Unbearable to acknowledge
how much they are themselves our fated life.

Open the traveling suitcase—

There the beloved red sweater,
bright tangle of necklace, earrings of amber.
Each confirming: I chose these, I.

But habit is different: it chooses.
And we, its good horse,
opening our mouths at even the sight of the bit. 

Jane Hirshfield's sixth book of poetry, After, was named a "best book of 2006" by the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Financial Times.