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In the Ring of Twenty Signs

by Barbara Helfgott Hyett

—after Joseph Campbell

The third ring is the future scraping
the present: what is next enters, closes
itself to the past. The fifth ring is
observation. The sixth, satisfaction
of what is known. The fourth ring
is worry, but that is naive, short-lived,
a waste of time, which is the tenth ring,
the middle. The eleventh ring is pleasure;
feeding, but not gluttony, sex but not
depletion. The twelfth ring: love.
The thirteenth, love undone, unleashed
attachment. Rings six through nine are
marriage. The fourteenth ring is silence.
The fifteenth, desire. The sixteenth
ring, mercy. The sixteenth ring is true.
At seventeen you stand alone on the stairway.
The seventeenth ring is achievement.
The eighteenth gives it all away. Not
generously. Not regretfully. Just given.
The nineteenth ring is loneliness suffered
despite oneself. The twentieth ring is the moon
and all its shadows. Rings one and two—
these are the human, delicate and susceptible.
The first two rings are the eyes.


Barbara Helfgott Hyett teaches at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education and directs a bussiness, The Workshop for Publishing Poets, in Brookline, Mass. She is the author of four books and has had poems and essays published in over one hundred magazines and in twenty-two anthologies. (2001)

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