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Posts Tagged ‘Mary Oliver’

[New Year’s Eve, poems by Mary Oliver and Jane Mead]

“Are spirits’ lives so short?” asked Scrooge.
“My life upon this globe is very brief,” replied the Ghost. “It ends to-night.”

The worm Ouroboros eats its tail, every day renewed, ever renewing. Cycles unending. The Neuse River snakes to New Bern, clouds lift inland, each little feeder stream is filled. Rain, ice, lichen eat the stone, phosphate creeps its migration through generations: rock to soil, leaf to masticator, herbivore to predator and all decomposing back to soil. I breathe out what the tree breathes in and breathes out for me to breathe. And the cycle we mark today: the dying Year gives birth to the New.

So many cycles. One enormous round. Every thing connected, interconnected, and we sense ourselves as spokes of the wheel or sometimes the never-ceasing motion of its rim that grinds along the path that is our life. As daylight diminishes it grows harder to hold onto our imagining of that wheel, its endless turning, that path it pursues still stretching on beyond the horizon. Harder to hold onto hope that the path’s end is indeterminate and out of sight.

Yes, it grows harder in these years of death’s overwhelming harvest to push aside imagining our own death. Too many deaths, COVID and otherwise, to pay attention; too many deaths to ignore a single one. In a few minutes I’ll set this page aside when my son arrives. He’ll leave Amelia here while the rest of the family attends their next-door neighbor’s funeral. A sudden death – our friend M was not old or ill. A shock to the fragile wall we build around our own mortality. Linda and I find ourselves tallying all the deaths that have touched us this month. The man who fixes our cars. A friend’s best friend. Names and faces more than we ever expect, doesn’t it seem? Death hunches at our shoulder, sometimes intrusive, sometimes silently lingering, sometimes perched like a moth that’s invisible until it flies into our face.

Tonight at midnight we will celebrate the Newborn Year but perhaps with even more enthusiasm we’ll celebrate a moment’s permission to ignore its haggard, dissipated forebear. The Old Year dies in winter darkness; death, the ultimate consuming dark. But notice – twelve days enfold the span of solstice to new year’s morning. The Ghost of Christmas Present senescent and dying yet retains some presence within us. Twelve days already lengthening, light seeping in even before the old year succumbs. Perhaps endings and beginnings are false markings along the ever-flowing course. Perhaps encircled by death it is possible, vital even, to engage with life. Perhaps death itself is not darkness but enfolding light.

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White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field

Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings — five feet apart —
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow —
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows —
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us —

as soft as feathers —
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

Mary Oliver  — 1935-2019
this poem first appeared in The New Yorker, January 2, 1989

 


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I Wonder if I Will Miss the Moss

I wonder if I will miss the moss
after I fly off as much as I miss it now
just thinking about leaving.

There were stones of many colors.
There were sticks holding both
lichen and moss.
There were red gates with old
hand-forged hardware.
There were fields of dry grass
smelling of first rain
then of new mud. There was mud,
and there was the walking,
all the beautiful walking,
and it alone filled me –
the smells, the scratchy grass heads.
All the sleeping under bushes,
once waking to vultures above, peering down
with their bent heads they way they do,
caricatures of interest and curiosity.
Once too a lizard.
Once too a kangaroo rat.
Once too a rat.
They did not say I belonged to them,
but I did.

Whenever the experiment on and of
my life begins to draw to a close
I’ll go back to the place that held me
and be held. It’s O.K. I think
I did what I could. I think
I sang some, I think I held my hand out.

Jane Mead — 1958-2019
this poem first appeared in The New Yorker, September 20, 2021

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Mary Oliver was a guide to the intersection between human life and the natural world; her voice affirms the expression of person in nature in person and affirms that no voice can fully express that oneness. Jane Mead, who for years was Poet-in-Residence at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, expected poetry to move people to preserve the earth; at the end of her life she was a guide to the landscape and ecology of dying.

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Doughton Park Tree 2021-10-23

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[including poems by Mary Oliver and Bill Griffin]

Because they are themselves and we have begun to see that they are,
++++because we are not humble but have been humbled,
++++because we can’t begin to love ourselves until we love them,
++++because we can’t love them unless we know them,
++++because in a world that scoffs at the word “sacred” we have
++++++++ accepted a sacred calling,
for all these reasons and more we protect them from us.

We are going to count the salamanders in Dorsey Creek. Before we leave Tremont and hike to their watershed we spray our boots with weak bleach (to kill the Ranavirus). We wear gloves so that we don’t smear them with our own flora (they have a rich commensal surface bacterial that keeps them healthy). We touch them only briefly and hold them in water in bags, not in our hands (a scant few grams of flesh, thin and magical skin, even the heat of our palms would stress them). Just a few minutes to check for gills if they’re still larvae, to count their spots and markings, look for cheek chevrons, flip and inspect the tint of their bellies, then we take them back to the leaf litter or flashing stream where we found them. Perhaps each one may be counted again, perhaps dozens of times over a ripe salamander lifespan of 20 years.

And perhaps, rising from our knees with new names in our mouths (Desmognathus monticola, quadramaculatus, conanti) and something sacred in our hearts, perhaps we will see the world as if for the second time, the way it really is.

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Alligator Poem
++++ Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

I knelt down
at the edge of the water,
and if the white birds standing
in the tops of the trees whistled any warning
I didn’t understand,
I drank up to the very moment it came
crashing toward me,
its tail flailing
like a bundle of swords,
slashing the grass,
and the inside of its cradle-shaped mouth
gaping,
and rimmed with teeth –
and that’s how I almost died
of foolishness
in beautiful Florida.
But I didn’t.
I leaped aside, and fell,
and it streamed past me, crushing everything in its path
as it swept down to the water
and threw itself in,
and, in the end,
this isn’t a poem about foolishness
but about how I rose from the ground
and saw the world as if for the second time,
the way it really is.
The water, that circle of shattered glass,
healed itself with a slow whisper
and lay back
with the back-lit light of polished steel,
and the birds, in the endless waterfalls of the trees,
shook open the snowy pleats of their wings, and drifted away,
while, for a keepsake, and to steady myself,
I reached out,
I picked the wild flowers from the grass around me –
blue stars
and blood-red trumpets
on long green stems –
for hours in my trembling hands they glittered
like fire.

from New and Selected Poems, © 1992 by Mary Oliver, Beacon Press, Boston. Reprinted in The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

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Sorceress’ lizard, bellows breath, fire worm, winged dog – O, little salamander, how you inspire us with your magic! Pliny the Elder recognized that you are not a lizard but ancient Greeks still rumored that you quench fire with the chill of your body. The Talmud explains you are a product of fire and immune to its harm. Perhaps during the long winters of the Middle Ages you emerged miraculously from the log thrown onto the hearth to substantiate your reputation. Marco Polo believed your true nature to be an “incombustible substance found in the earth.” And let’s not forget the fearful excretions of your skin, poisonous enough to kill the entire village if you fall into the well, fundamental ingredient of witches’ brews, irresistible aphrodisiac.

Little wriggling Caudata, the reality of your nature is more wondrous than myth. You eat small things that would starve larger creatures and yet you thrive; your biomass exceeds that of all the mammals in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Your skin breathes – most of you don’t even have lungs! – and brews up a constellation of compounds that confound the biochemist. Some of you live 4 years with gills in the swift chill stream before becoming adults, others metamorphose within your eggs beneath forest duff and emerge fully formed, but all of you with your efficient ectothermic life plan grow and grow, make eggs, survive perhaps for decades. And Great Smokies holds more of your diversity than any other place in the world.

We are amazed! We students of SANCP Reptiles and Amphibians Course of 2021 are just astonished and awestruck. You are the coolest of the cool (ectotherms, that is)! We thank your Chief Sorcerer of Knowledge, Professor John Maerz, and Acolyte of Hands-On, Graduate Research Assistant Jade Samples, for sharing their lore, showing us how to find you, leading us to love you.

Salamanders – you rule!

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Salamander
++++ Bill Griffin

This is my gift –
++++++++ to change.
From Inadu Creek I leave behind
my frilly gills and climb
the spire of blue-eyed grass.
Having become a creature of air bathing
myself in dew, am I not still
a creature of water?

I invite you to discover
in each of my family our variations,
discern that every runnel, every spring,
every palm-sized cup of moisture
holds its lithe expectation, for this
is my gift to you –
++++++++ to notice changes.

I will let you lightly touch
the welcome of my smoothness
while I drink a little warmth
from your hand. Now count
the dapples down my length,
measure the blush of my cheek,

then find when you descend
the eastern face of Snake Den Ridge
those subtle alterations my cousins
are accumulating until finally
they acquire a new name.

And when you have returned me
to my bed of blue-bead lily, then touch
a smooth place within yourself
and carry with you into the world
++++++++ your own changes.

 

from Snake Den Ridge: a bestiary, © 2008 by Bill Griffin, March Street Press, Greensboro, NC. Illustrations and historical preface by Linda French Griffin.

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The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program is an adult education endeavor of Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Their mission of connecting people with nature continues even during pandemics! The science-based educational programs have evolved with science-based precautions and modifications to allow small communities to form for a weekend at a time.

Many thanks to John DiDiego, GSMIT Education Director, and to the awe-inspiring instructors for the July, 2021 SANCP Reptiles and Amphibians course, Dr. John Charles Maerz from University of Georgia, and his intrepid research assistant, Jade Samples. We crammed a semester’s worth of herpetology into 36 hours out of doors in the Smokies. (Did I sleep? Maybe a little.)

All photographs by Bill Griffin. Plethodon jordani on blue-eyed grass by Linda French Griffin. Header art also by Linda Griffin.

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2014-06-30a Doughton Park Tree

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For your sakes, I wish I was Michael Beadle.

That’s what I told the crowd at Foothills Arts Council in Elkin last Saturday evening where we’d gathered for live music by Angie and Marc and LIVE POETRY by Michael. I’m talking LIVE! Every time I’ve experienced a poetic happening with Michael Beadle my creative metabolic rate has been kicked up at least three notches. Brainstorming the Zoo Poetry project we did together with Pat Riviere-Seel and Sue Farlow three years ago; joining a dozen other Jabberwockers to act out the poem at Michael’s direction; wandering through Weymouth Woods to collect haikuopons — energy is what Michael brings to poetry.

Alas, on Saturday Michael had a health issue at the last minute and couldn’t make the gig, but fortunately I have two of his books, so I pretended to be him for a few minutes (sort of like Danny DeVito pretending to be Arnold Schwarzenegger). And I had brought Plank Road and other books by Shelby Stephenson for show-and-tell before we launched the open mic. No crowds rolled in the guillotine clamoring for my head. No disappointed metaphorists vowed to forever give up the verbal art in their disappointment. No babies cried. McRitchies Winery did not run out of hard cider. We had a pretty good time together.

But we sure missed Michael.

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We also had music by singer-songwriter-acoustic guitarist Angie Caswell accompanied on baritone guitar by Marc Curtis. Angela says she’s been singing since she could speak and has studied music all her life. She enjoys writing acoustic jams that uplift and inspire. She loves to lead worship but also to recreate top 40 hits in artsy, indie fashion. Angela currently lives in Elkin, North Carolina and says, “I aspire to change things, one song at a time.”

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Poems by Michael Beadle . . .

from An Invented Hour, © 2004 Michael Beadle

there’s
more
of me
to go
around
these days

but

less
of me
comes
back
when
I’m done

–     –     –     –     –

even now
Truth is
curling up

her red
carpet
to go

on tour
with the
circus

–     –     –     –     –

from Friends We Haven’t Met, mavenpress © 2008 Michael Beadle

melting footprints
in the snow

seems like
something bigger
has been here

–     –     –     –     –

something
so small
and beautiful

wants

to give
its life

to break
your heart

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And here’s a little instant replay of open mic:

by Leighanne Wright

if you were the hawk I saw yesterday

flying up and crossing over
winging along side
so I could know her
for mere seconds
but years really
each feather forever etched
upon my memory
then she was off
higher than I could go

I may have lost sight of her
but never lost the vision
or the experience of being next to her
and although my presence
may have changed her velocity
could it be said
that I affected her too?

Leighanne Martin Wright is executive director of the Foothills Arts Council in Elkin, NC

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photo credit: Leighanne Wright

by Dominic Neumark

Vanitas

Whither does the skull in the old painting look
…an hourglass and a candle by its side?
Does it see the passing of time or of life?

How appropriate, a painting on brink of winter
Death treads through snow, among dead trees
Not a monarch…but a swindler.

For who could say that he comes at a good time?
Always too early, always too late.
At the gate of your home, boots dark with grime.

Then there’s the candle, a flickering light
Seemingly alive, like a dancing sprite
Then gone without a fight.

Ah, and the hourglass…what does it say?
The grains gone to the bottom long ago
Telling the victims of fate: “life too shall pass.”

…but what of undone deeds (and) unfulfilled desires?
What of countless “what ifs” and “could haves?”
“Silence!” says the skull. “No need is now dire.”

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photo credit: Leighanne Wright

by Kim Seipel-Parks

In my grandmother’s kitchen

She lets me make
the biscuits.

Standing on the stool’s woven seat
that creaks and moans, I wear
her apron,
black
with bright embroidered flowers.
(It’s long enough to hide my shoes.)
The flour puffs into a cloud
as she pours it in the bowl –

some settles on my nose and dusts
my eyelashes.
In an exploration, my tiny fingers
make trails,
push the flour to the sides, dig a hole
that she fills with buttermilk.

My fingers wade into the coldness,
search for the bottom and pull
the flour in.
Making a fist, the sloppy dough
squishes through.
Skin loose and wrinkled,
knuckles swollen,
her hands guide mine.

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photo credit: Leighanne Wright

by Mary Oliver, read by Jane Hazelman

Today

Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word.
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling

a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.

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photo credit: Leighanne Wright

by Bill Griffin

Canada Goose, Country Road

Dressed like a bouncer in some pretentious restaurant
or Jesse Ventura with the cameras rolling
you and your lady friend disdain my car,
a diffident amble down the white line,
deliberate steps deliberately unperturbed.

Goose, I want you to be afraid
because I am afraid of feathers and blood
on the tarmac, on my bumper –
last spring I saw your ungainly progeny
one minute all down & punk & pursuing gape,
the next minute opened like a meat counter specialty.

I honk, but you say, “Well, that sounds like ‘Hello,’”
so I hop out, raise my arms. Look here, Anseriformes,
this is a mammal and a big one!
But you don’t care,
who’s backed down a fox and flattened a weasel,
who’s forsaken migration and become a million.

Another strategy – I rush your mate.
Now you’re paying attention! and I’m glad to retreat
from your hiss and spit; when you’re certain I’m humbled,
you follow her along into the field
with one more sibilance that sounds like, “Asshole”;
I drive off with a clear conscience and cosmic permission
to order fried chicken for lunch.

from Barb Quill Down, Pudding House Publications © 2004 Bill Griffin

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Let the beauty we love be what we do.
— Rumi

Visit Michael Beadle online at http://www.michaelbeadle.com/
And plan for some LIVE POETRY when the Foothills Arts Council invites Michael back sometime later this year.

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April 27, 2012 – first scarlet tanager of spring, Elkin, NC.

If I had an hour and good binoculars I could spot him, but I know he’s there.  There’s no other song like his, just exactly like a robin with a 40 pack-year smoking history.  He always arrives about a week after the big oaks in our neighborhood have fully leaved, and then he hangs out way up in the canopy.  I’ll come back tomorrow when the sun is high, follow my ears, and when he lunges from the greenery for a moth or a beetle, I’ll have him.  A red like no other red.

Last week Linda was drawing at her desk when Saul ran in from the next room.  “Granny, I seed a red-headed woodpecker on the bird feeder!”  He pulls her into the den and there is indeed a woodpecker on the feeder, a male downy, patch of red at his nape.  “Good, Saul!  That is a woodpecker.  But a red-headed woodpecker has a head that is red all over.”  About fifteen minutes later Saul is back.  “Granny, see this red-headed woodpecker!”  And it’s head is red all over.  A bright fiery cardinal.

Red birds.  So startling!  So noticeable, so eye-catching!  Is the northern cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis, the state bird of seven out of fifty because it’s so familiar and recognizable or because it is exotic, unbelievable that something so bright would allow itself to be seen by mortals?  I remember the first time I actually saw Piranga olivacea, the scarlet tanager.  I’d heard plenty calling and singing but never spotted one.  June 17, 1994, I was visiting my brother-in-law Skip for a weekend at his place in southern Ohio (off the beaten path doesn’t half do it justice).  Mid-morning with the binocs, about to quit because of warbler-neck (cricked back searching the tops of trees for spots of color), and there he was.  Perched high in brightness, not even attempting to conceal his flame.

Just to share a moment of that creature’s living breath, to see something in clarity and commonplace that up until that moment has been so elusive and so desired, it is to feel the earth, nature, creation expanding around me and I am a single cell in the body of God.  And if the sun is shining tomorrow, I think I’ll walk around the block and try to see another.

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It’s been almost a year since I last saw a scarlet tanager.  It’s been about a year since I last read Mary Oliver’s book, Red Bird.  I need to return to both.  Scarlet tanagers aren’t rare, although one has to go where they are to see one.  And look up.  Mary Oliver’s poems don’t seem rare.  So conversational, so commonplace.  Being alive is not particularly rare.  Six-plus billion of us Homo sapiens are engaged in it today. Out of the one-thousand four-hundred and forty minutes in each day, I don’t pause to consider many of them rare.

Shouldn’t I?  Read this poem with me.  Read and let us, you and I, share a moment of each other’s living breath.

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Red Bird Explains Himself

“Yes, I was the brilliance floating over the snow
and I was the song in the summer leaves, but this was
only the first trick
I had hold of among my other mythologies,
for I also knew obedience: bringing sticks to the nest,
food to the young, kisses to my bride.

But don’t stop there, stay with me: listen.

If I was the song that entered your heart
then I was the music of your heart, that you wanted and needed,
and thus wilderness bloomed there, with all its
followers: gardeners, lovers, people who weep
for the death of rivers.

And this was my true task, to be the
music of the body.  Do you understand?  for truly the body needs
a song, a spirit, a soul.  And no less, to make this work,
the soul has need of a body,
and I am both of the earth and I am of the inexplicable
beauty of heaven
where I fly so easily, so welcome, yes,
and this is why I have been sent, to teach this to your heart.”

from Red Bird, Mary Oliver, Beacon Press, © 2008 by Mary Oliver

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