Brenda Hillman

Halfway Through Civilization, Late to Another
July 20, 2012 Hillman Brenda

Halfway Through Civilization, Late to Another

meeting for grown-ups, i hurry across campus,

pulling my uncool roller bag up the curb. Early autumn, walking

through Hopkins dearest freshness deep down things dearest freshness

past the dorm basement through wisps of corporate lilac fabric

softener. The outline of a squirrel’s tail points down like a

tornado to the nuthatch in the cedar. There’s a bubble in the

invisible; they’re going to have to do it over. My colleagues are

dear & mostly calm. Nearly three decades of staring at their

shoes under committee tables: firm, practical shoes, the seams

strained. Earnest faces in a circle, making lists to make shapes of


Pausing near the library, the goddess zone of the

orderly ones, thinking of symbolic forms. Autumn creeps on

to the Central Valley, to the engineered seeds & to seeds that

weren’t engineered & have fallen free. They’ve developed

enough escape velocity to be released to a layer none of us

knows about, a sighing between sighing. What is a thought?

Often i think of the ritual burial of the Neanderthal child, found

with ibex horns arranged in an arch around his little head. Who

thought that up? Of course, an ibex might also bury its dead, but

could not make the arch. Why did hominids think the arch

could help? As Virgil notes, they made the gates of horn. They

uttered & cried out.

Brenda Hillman (born March 27, 1951 in Tucson, Arizona), is an American poet and translator.[1] She is the author of nine collections of poetry: White Dress, Fortress, Death Tractates, Bright Existence, Loose Sugar, Cascadia, Pieces of Air in the Epic, Practical Water, for which she won the LA Times Book Award for Poetry, and Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire, which received the 2014 Griffin Poetry Prize and the Northern California Book Award for Poetry. Among the awards Hillman has received are the 2012 Academy of American Poets Fellowship, the 2005 William Carlos Williams Prize for poetry, and Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. A professor of Creative Writing, she holds the Olivia Filippi Chair in Poetry at Saint Mary’s College of California, in Moraga, California. Hillman is also involved in non-violent activism as a member of the Code Pink Working Group in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2016, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.