Thursday, July 28, 2011

Back to Mary Oliver's Poetry

Geese in flight, Mark Ward in Wayne, flickr photo.

Whenever I think of life and death, which happens, I turn to Mary Oliver, a favorite poet. I thank my cousin Kathy Curro for this; she sent me gifts of Oliver's poetry when I was a PCV in Ukraine. I cherish these books. I keep them next to my bed, to browse through while I’m awaiting sleep, sometimes long in coming. Maybe it's being 71 and awaiting the birth of a new grandson, Michelle's fourth child, any moment now.

When my mind won’t shut down, I read a Mary Oliver poem, close my eyes, and focus on the images she so joyfully creates with words. She literally paints pictures with words. Art to contemplate, comfort, invigorate. Last night I dreamt I was lying in a pasture of wildflowers at Wildwood Metropark in Toledo, covered with wild grasses and daisies. Getting ready to push up the daisies? Or just recalling Oliver’s images in my sleep?

Messenger By Mary Oliver
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

White Flowers By Mary Oliver
Last night in the fields
I lay down in the darkness
to think about death,
but instead I fell asleep,
as if in a vast and sloping room
filled with those white flowers
that open all summer,
sticky and untidy,
in the warm fields.
When I woke
the morning light was just slipping
in front of the stars,
and I was covered
with blossoms.
I don’t know
how it happened—
I don’t know
if my body went diving down
under the sugary vines
in some sleep-sharpened affinity
with the depths, or whether
that green energy
rose like a wave
and curled over me, claiming me
in its husky arms.
I pushed them away, but I didn’t rise.
Never in my life had I felt so plush,
or so slippery,
or so resplendently empty.
Never in my life
had I felt myself so near
that porous line
where my own body was done with
and the roots and the stems and the flowers
began.

Wild Geese (an all-time favorite poem)
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

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