Home > Poetry > In the Ring of Twenty Signs
Published: Mon Oct 15 2001
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
In the Ring of Twenty Signs

                                        —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.

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Barbara Helfgott Hyett is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Rift (Arkansas, 2008), for which she won The Boston Foundation’s Artist Fellowship Award. She is the co-founder of the Writer’s Room of Boston and the director of the POEMWORKS writing workshop. Her work has appeared in The Nation, Prairie Schooner, AGNI, and elsewhere. (updated 4/2016)

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