Saturday, February 23, 2013

When I need to rest and think


When I need to rest and think, I pick up Mary Oliver’s poems.  I love her anthropomorphic visions of nature, how she puts human feelings into the sights and sounds of birds, grasses, trees and the tiny details of wildlife.  So observant. How she weaves nature into reflections on life and death, on our journeys over hills and dales, mountain paths and valleys. 

Her poetry is magic: Walt Whitman, Emerson and Thoreau rolled into one for the 21st century.  There’s some Adrienne Rich, some Robert Frost, some Maya Angelou.  “I know why the caged bird sings.”   But it’s Mary Oliver’s distinctive voice, cadence and perspective that moves me.

In some ways, Oliver’s poetry is like the archetypal story of Perceval’s quest for the Holy Grail, really about our journeys to find ourselves, a story that friend Gordon shared recently at the last Poetry Evening at Dragonfly cafe, which is on my mind.  Dragonfly is closing because it couldn’t make it financially. Our community is losing a treasure.  I think this takes me to Mary Oliver.  So does missing my brother Loren.  Loss.  “The bloody sharps and flats of life."   

"Wild Geese," from Owls and Other Fantasies(2003)
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.

"Grass" from White Pine (1994)
Those who are disappointed, betrayed, scarified! Those who would still put their hands upon me! Those who belong to the past!

How many of us have weighted the years of groaning and weeping? How many years have I done it, how many nights spent panting, hating, grieving, oh, merciless, pitiless remembrances!


I walk over the green hillsides. I lie down on the harsh, sun flavored blades and bundles of grass; the grass cares nothing about me, it doesn't want anything from me, it rises to its own purpose, and sweetly, following the single holy dictum: to be itself, to let the sky be the sky, to let a young girl be a young girl freely--to let a middle-aged woman be, comfortably, a middle-aged woman.

Those bloody sharps and flats--those endless calamities of the personal past. Bah! I disown them from the rest of my life, in which I mean to rest.


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