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A Common Cold


A common cold, we say—
common, though it has encircled the globe
   seven times now handed traveler to traveler
   though it has seen the Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi'an
   seen Piero della Francesca's Madonna del Parto in Monterchi
   seen the emptied synagogues of Krasnogruda
   seen the since-burned souk of Aleppo

A common cold, we say—
common, though it is infinite and surely immortal
   common because it will almost never kill us
   and because it is shared among any who agree to or do not agree to
   and because it is unaristocratic
       reducing to redness both profiled and front-viewed noses
       reducing to coughing the once-articulate larynx
       reducing to unhappy sleepless turning the pillows of down,
           of wool, of straw, of foam, of kapok

A common cold, we say—
common because it is cloudy and changing and dulling
   because there are summer colds, winter colds, fall colds,
       colds of the spring
   because these are always called colds, however they differ
       beginning sore-throated
       beginning sniffling
       beginning a little tired or under the weather
       beginning with one single innocuous untitled sneeze
   because it is bane of usually eight days' duration
       and two or three boxes of tissues at most

The common cold, we say—
and wonder, when did it join us
   when did it saunter into the Darwinian corridors of the human
   do manatees catch them do parrots I do not think so
   and who named it first, first described it, Imhotep, Asclepius, Zhongjing
   and did they wonder, is it happy sharing our lives
       as generously as inexhaustibly as it shares its own
       virus dividing and changing while Piero's girl gazes still downward
       five centuries still waiting still pondering still undivided

while in front of her someone hunts through her opening pockets for tissues
               for more than one reason once


Jane Hirshfield

The Threepenny Review

Spring 2014


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