It was the birthday of Mary Oliver two days ago. Oliver passed in 2019. I am just now discovering the wealth of poetry she left for us.
This meditation on beauty, the natural world, and the wonder of the human mind and body is a gift; a respite from our current ‘meme world.’
Where do I live? If I had no address, as many people do not, I could nevertheless say that I lived in the same town as the lilies of the field, and the still waters.
Spring, and all through the neighborhood now there are strong men tending flowers.
Beauty without purpose is beauty without virtue. But all beautiful things, inherently, have this function – to excite the viewers toward sublime thought. Glory to the world, that good teacher.
Among the swans there is none called the least, or the greatest.
I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.
As for the body, it is solid and strong and curious and full of detail; it wants to polish itself; it wants to love another body; it is the only vessel in the world that can hold, in a mix of power and sweetness: words, song, gesture, passion, ideas, ingenuity, devotion, merriment, vanity, and virtue.
Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.
There are many ways to perish, or to flourish.
How old pain, for example, can stall us at the threshold of function….
Still friends, consider stone, that is without the fret of gravity, and water that is without anxiety. And the pine trees that never forget their recipe for renewal.
And the female wood duck who is looking this way and that way for her children. And the snapping turtle who is looking this way and that way also. This is the world.
And consider, always, every day, the determination of the grass to grow despite the unending obstacles.
I ask you again: if you have not been enchanted by this adventure—your life—what would do for you?
And, where are you, with your ears bagged down as if with packets of sand? Listen. We all have much more listening to do. Tear the sand away. And listen. The river is singing. …
For myself, I have walked in these woods for More than forty years, and I am the only thing, it seems, that is about to be used up. Or, to be less extravagant, will, in the Foreseeable future, be used up.
First, though, I want to step out into some fresh morning and look around and hear myself crying out: “The house of money is falling! The house of money is falling! The weeds are rising! The weeds are rising!”
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was an officer in the Union Army. He stood six feet three inches tall and had a soldierly bearing. In later life, he loved to use military metaphors in his speeches and his conversation; he didn’t mind being referred to good-naturedly as Captain Holmes; and he wore his enormous military mustaches until his death in 1935, at the age of ninety-three. The war was the central experience of his life, and he kept its memory alive. Every year he drank a glass of wine in observance of the anniversary of the battle Antietam, where he had been shot in the neck and left, briefly behind enemy lines, for dead.
I’ve been taught bloodstones can cure a snakebite, can stop the bleeding—most people forgot this when the war ended. The war ended depending on which war you mean: those we started, before those, millennia ago and onward, those which started me, which I lost and won—these ever-blooming wounds.
—Natalie Diaz, Post Colonial Love Poem
Natalie Diaz writes of her heritage, her connection to earth and water, and her lovers, as if they are all part of the same emotional (erotically charged) experience. The synthesis is eloquent and moving.
“IN THE MYRIADIC YEAR OF OUR LORD—the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death!—Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.”
“When we were new, Rosa and I were mid-store, on the magazines table side, and could see through more than half of the window. So we were able to watch the outside – the office workers hurrying by, the taxis, the runners, the tourists, Beggar Man and his dog, the lower part of the RPO Building. Once we were more settled, Manager allowed us to walk up to the front until we were right behind the window display, and then we could see how tall the RPO Building was. And if we were there at just the right time, we would see the Sun on his journey, crossing between the building tops from our side over to the RPO Building side.”
First there was nothing. Then there was everything. Then, in a park above a western city after dusk, the air is raining messages. A woman sits on the ground, leaning against a pine. Its bark presses hard against her back, as hard as life. Its needles scent the air and a force hums in the heart of the wood. Her ears tune down to the lowest frequencies. The tree is saying things, in words before words.
To give mind to machines, they are calling it out of the world, out of the neighborhood, out of the body. They have bound it in the brain, in the hard shell of the skull, in order to bind it in a machine. From the heron flying home at dusk, from the misty hollows at sunrise, from the stories told at the row’s end, they are calling the mind into exile in the dry circuits of machines.
O anti-verdurous phallic were’t not for your pouring weight looming in tears like a sick tree or your ever-gaudy-comfort jabbing your city’s much wrinkled sky you’d seem an absurd Babel squatting before mortal millions
—Gregory Corso, from Ode to Coit Tower, in Gasoline
Couldn’t row this morning so I took a long looping walk through downtown. I think my walking playlist is getting pretty good. It’s big enough now that putting it on shuffle and heading out is starting to provide surprises.
We have challenges enough, do we not? With every day presenting its difficulties, a multitude of small assaults on our well-being. We build up no credit for facing these struggles, and instead are told it’s possible there may also be … the rest “Club”