“Forgive Me” by Mary Oliver

Angels are wonderful but they are so, well, aloof.
It’s what I sense in the mud and the roots of the
trees, or the well, or the barn, or the rock with
its citron map of lichen that halts my feet and
makes my eyes flare, feeling the presence of some
spirit, some small god, who abides there.

If I were a perfect person, I would be bowing
continuously.
I’m not, though I pause wherever I feel this
holiness, which is why I’m so often late coming
back from wherever I went.

Forgive me.

Mary Oliver, Blue Horses, 2014, Penguin Press.

Begin Again

Poetry laid back and played dead until this morning. I wasn’t sad or anything, only restless. ~ Alice Walker

A funny thing happened during my hiatus at the beginning of the year. I began to question my need for written poetry–for words and writing in general–until I had convinced myself that I truly didn’t need it, that it was a luxury . . . a fluffy, cloud-chasing time-consumer that distracted me from living a three-dimensional life. Poetry was to be found in the natural world around me, I rationalized, in the act of living itself. I wanted to see if I could live without the words and, instead, focus on the experience.

I say it was funny, but in reality it was rather sad. What I found–and I see this now in retrospect–was that I grew flatter and more isolated; I was living in “3-D”, but without an outlet, I was left living in my own head, trying to process my own thoughts . . .  I wasn’t reading poetry, so I wasn’t reminded that those feelings I had floating around were part of the human condition, and I wasn’t writing, so my feelings remained stuck and repressed, until, I’m convinced, they manifested themselves as illness. I grew ill–physically and mentally–and, ironically, I couldn’t even live the three-dimensional life I had so craved. I was the untethered elephant Stafford had warned us about. I had gotten “lost in the dark,” and I did not “recognize the fact” until much later.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break.

Poetry had laid back and played dead, I thought, but perhaps it was I who had betrayed it by shrugging away. So it was one evening in the midst of a sleepless slumber that I turned once again to poetry–not just any poetry, the very poetry I had shared here. I went back to the beginning, and I began reading, again. And perhaps here’s the funny thing . . . I began to feel better. Some things we can’t explain, they must be taken on faith, but I am convinced that some people simply need poetry–need words–to survive. Or maybe not to survive, but definitely to thrive. I shared with a friend this morning (regarding technical versus creative writing), “It’s like eating rice and beans every single day. It will sustain you, but it won’t fulfill you.” The things I had turned to in lieu of written poetry had kept me alive, but hadn’t kept me healthy. I was surviving, but I certainly wasn’t thriving. But as with anything, balance is key, and that’s what my life had been missing all along.

I know many of you found strength and solace here in these daily poetry and words posts. I know I led you to believe that I would be back sooner than now. I know many of you must have wondered what happened. I imagine one or two of you may have even felt let down by my unexplained absence. I apologize, I hope you can forgive me. I wasn’t well, but I have returned, and I am healing. I have missed poetry. I have missed you.

I may struggle to find that elusive balance for a bit. Posts may be intermittent and unpredictable, but perhaps that can be a good thing. A little spontaneity, a little surprise; I hear they can be chicken soup for the soul.

So what say you?
Shall we begin again?

Let’s.

And where exactly does one begin?

Well at the beginning, of course.

Of course.

And so it is that we return to the beginning. To the very first poem I posted here, to the very poem that first saved my life, to the very poem that saves it again.

*************

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

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.

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver, Dream Work.

************

I was just guessing
At numbers and figures
Pulling the puzzles apart
Questions of science
Science and progress
Do not speak as loud as my heart

I’m going back to the start

“The Uses of Sorrow” by Mary Oliver (and a note from Christy)

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

“The Uses of Sorrow” by Mary Oliver, from Thirst, 2007. Beacon Press.

 

***

Note from Christy:

2016 was a tumultuous year. It had its share of joy, but most would agree that ’16 also had an inordinate amount of pain and loss and anxiety. It’s why I chose to leave you–for the time being–with Mary Oliver’s “The Uses of Sorrow.” My long-term readers may know that I’ve opened and closed each year with Ms. Oliver, and given the “box full of darkness” that was 2016, it felt like the right piece to close this year. We can learn from darkness. We can learn from sorrow. We can learn from grief. We may never “get over it” or “feel better,” but we can adapt. We can grow scar tissue. We can choose to be softened, to keep going. We can choose to look at darkness as a gift.

Had I not gone with Ms. Oliver, I may have chosen the following by Viktor Frankl:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

 

Words for the Year will return in the new year after a short hiatus. Like last year, I plan to be back by April. I may post daily, or I may post on a reduced schedule, or I may just go with the flow and allow room for spontaneity. This project means so much to me, and I’m touched to know it means so much to many of you as well. (Special wave to Willene.) Sometimes you all are the bright lights that keep me going, just as these poems often keep you–us–going. “The darkness around us is deep,” to quote William Stafford in “A Ritual to Read to Each Other,” but somehow, like elephants, we hold each others’ tails and we continue to find our way. Until next time, I wish you love and light and good health. ~Christy

 

“Not Anyone Who Says” by Mary Oliver

Not anyone who says, “I’m going to be
careful and smart in matters of love,”
who says, “I’m going to choose slowly,”
but only those lovers who didn’t choose at all
but were, as it were, chosen
by something invisible and powerful and uncontrollable
and beautiful and possibly even
unsuitable —
only those know what I’m talking about
in this talking about love.

from: Felicity: Poems by Mary Oliver, Penguin Press.

“The Leaf And The Cloud” (excerpt) by Mary Oliver

When loneliness comes stalking, go into the fields, consider
the orderliness of the world. Notice
something you have never noticed before,

like the tambourine sound of the snow-cricket
whose pale green body is no longer than your thumb.

Stare hard at the hummingbird, in the summer rain,
shaking the water-sparks from its wings.

Let grief be your sister, she will wither or not.
Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also,
like the diligent leaves.

A lifetime isn’t long enough for the beauty of this world
and the responsibilities of your life.

Scatter your flowers over the graves, and walk away.
Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance.

In the glare of your mind, be modest.
And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling.

Live with the beetle, and the wind.

Mary Oliver, from The Leaf And The Cloud: A Poem