“Forty Years” by Mary Oliver

for forty years
the sheets of white paper have
passed under my hands and I have tried
    to improve their peaceful

emptiness putting down
little curls little shafts
of letters words
    little flames leaping

not one page
was less to me than fascinating
discursive full of cadence
    its pale nerves hiding

in the curves of the Qs
behind the soldierly Hs
in the webbed feet of the Ws
    forty years

and again this morning as always
I am stopped as the world comes back
wet and beautiful I am thinking
    that language

is not even a river
is not a tree is not a green field
is not even a black ant traveling
    briskly modestly

from day to day from one
golden page to another.

-Mary Oliver, West Wind, (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997).

The poet Mary Oliver with Ricky. Photo via Angel Valentin for The New York Times
The poet Mary Oliver with Ricky. Photo via Angel Valentin for The New York Times

Happy Birthday to Mary Oliver, (born September 10, 1935).