There is no happiness like mine. I have been eating poetry. –Mark Strand
What shall I do with this book I love so much I’d like to eat it? Meeting the poet at a reading, I would cast my eyes down. I’d walk behind him, not stepping on his shadow. If he told me I was half blind, I might lose sight in both my eyes. At home, everything I write becomes infected with his wildness: for instance, this, which I never planned, which has no ending.
Where shall I put the book, so full of life my car could barely stick to the Expressway? When my cold encyclopedias sense its goofy brilliance, they climb and hang on one another like Chinese gymnasts. I must subtract to make a place for the book to live. I lift out histories, then other listless volumes. I toss my boring files, erase the answering machine, renounce the desk, computer, pens.
Only the illumination of St. John stays. In my study’s scooped-out heart I wait beside the book, which glows with light borrowed from some distant star. I look at St. John’s face. He gazes from his throne, his eyes blazing with love and understanding. Tongues of flame play over him, sent from the Source who is both arsonist and fireman, and in his right hand, he holds a book.
That time I thought I could not go any closer to grief without dying
I went closer, and I did not die. Surely God had His hand in this,
as well as friends. Still, I was bent, and my laughter, as the poets said,
was nowhere to be found. Then said my friend Daniel (brave even among lions), “It’s not the weight you carry
but how you carry it— books, bricks, grief— it’s all in the way you embrace it, balance it, carry it
when you cannot, and would not, put it down.” So I went practicing. Have you noticed?
Have you heard the laughter that comes, now and again, out of my startled mouth?
How I linger to admire, admire, admire the things of this world that are kind, and maybe
also troubled— roses in the wind, the sea geese on the steep waves, a love to which there is no reply?
Coming to God: First days
Lord, what shall I do that I can’t quiet myself? Here is the bread, and here is the cup, and I can’t quiet myself.
To enter the language of transformation! To learn the importance of stillness, with one’s hands folded!
When will my eyes of rejoicing turn peaceful? When will my joyful feet grow still? When will my heart stop its prancing as over the summer grass?
Lord, I would run for you, loving the miles for your sake. I would climb the highest tree to be that much closer.
Lord, I will learn also to kneel down into the world of the invisible, the inscrutable and the everlasting. Then I will move no more than the leaves of a tree on a day of no wind, bathed in light, like the wanderer who has come home at last and kneels in peace, done with all unnecessary things; every motion; even words.
All afternoon the sea was a muddle of birds black and spiky, long-necked, slippery.
Down they went into the waters for the poor blunt-headed silver they live on, for a little while.
God, how did it ever come to you to invent Time?
I dream at night of the birds, of the beautiful, dark seas they push through.
These poems are excerpted from Mary Oliver's book Thirst (Houghton Mifflin), used wth permission of the publisher and the author.