Poetry

Poetry

Poetry

      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.





Kingdom come

So she took a look back,
what did it matter?
Her city ablaze,
righteous anger engulfing it.

Would you look if you knew
the Holy Just One
chose your city to demolish—
you children, your friends,

even people you hated?
Wouldn’t their voices cry out
to haunt if you didn’t?

But this is not a story
of redemption,
no gopher wood ark, no rainbow.
This is a story of flood

without water, of ruin,
not forgiveness.
This wife turned her head
to look back and became

the very thing
tears are made of;
crystal, salt,
regret.









Ave Maria

Why does the angel always hold out a lily?
Is it because she is a lily of a lady;
As lithe and surprising, as pearlescent?
Or because the starring petals trumpet good news?

Or was she essentially being asked
to consider the lilies;
pulling sidereal considerations
down to the lilies of the field?

And these lilies with magenta freckles,
spring-green ribbed where the petals fold,
looking like blood and passion with
their fragrance of spice and memory.

Isn’t looking into their center to glimpse glory;
to spiral to heaven, dew-eyed, dusted
and trailing copper pollen?
Is there any other word but yes?









In Advent

Among the drift of lists across my desk,
this one—“call the cemetery for reservations,”
a narrow room for my body at final rest.

I will ask, is there an open space
somewhere near my mother or brother? Room
for two, perhaps, among the roots of cedars

under the sod and the one who now rolls
over it on his mower, mustache damp
in December fog, his headphones full of love songs.

We’re in the time of waiting for our salvation,
that slow movement toward the final night,
when light is nothing but breath inside

a cave, earth hiding its treasure until
we are ready to receive it. That place
we travel toward like the Magi, weary

and expectant, laying our gifts on the straw.









Poems

Heavy

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.



Cormorants

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.