In Honor of Mary Oliver
In Honor of Mary Oliver
By Miriam R. Kramer
“If I have any lasting worth, it will be because I have tried to make people remember what the Earth is meant to look like.” As this issue goes to press, the beloved poet Mary Oliver has passed away at age 83. Winner of the National Book Award in 1984 and the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, she quietly reigned as the best–selling living poet in the American pantheon. Her clear language and sense of the sublime in ordinary things touched devoted readers. Having grown up sexually abused in a dysfunctional family, she found stability and long-time happiness in both love and writing.
Oliver cared passionately about the natural world and drew great pleasure from the beautiful flora and fauna she transfigured into words. She adored dogs in particular. In her honor and for Valentine’s Day, several poems from a recent collection, Felicity, are listed below. I dedicate this column to Genie Rosebrock, a long-time Old Town resident and English teacher who introduced me to Oliver’s works.
“The First Day”
After you left
I jumped up and down,
I clapped my hands,
I stared into space.
In those days I was starving for happiness
So, say it was both silly and serious.
Say it was the first warm sting of possibility
Say I sensed the spreading warmth of joy.
“What This Is Not”
This is not just surprise and pleasure.
This is not just beauty sometimes
too hot to touch.
This is not a blessing with a beginning
and an end.
This is not just a wild summer.
This is not conditional.
“Everything That Was Broken”
Everything that was broken has
forgotten its brokenness. I live
now in a sky-house, through every
window the sun. Also your presence.
Our touching, our stories. Earthy
and holy both. How can this be, but
it is. Every day has something in
it whose name is Forever.
“This and That”
In this early dancing of a new day—
dogs leaping on the beach,
dolphins leaping not far from shore—
someone is bending over me,
is kissing me slowly.
“Except for the Body”
Except for the body
of someone you love
including all its expressions
in privacy and in public,
trees, I think,
are the most beautiful
forms on the earth.
if this were a contest,
the trees would come in
An extremely distant second.
Finally the world is beginning
to change, its fevers mounting,
its leaves unfolding.
And the mockingbirds find
ample reason and breath to fashion
new songs. They do. You can
count on it.
As for lovers, they are discovering
New ways to love. Listen, their windows are open.
You can hear them laughing.
Without spring who knows what would happen.
A lot of nothing, I suppose.
The leaves are all in motion now
the way a young boy rows and rows
in his wooden boat, just to get anywhere.
Late, late, but now lovely and lovelier.
And the two of us, together—a part of it.