So near to evening, thoughts against thought will run,   unsettled in currents: fish, aswim down suddened light.   Upon the bank, I’ve slowed to discern the turn toward night in the songs of birds. Even water itself is by dark undone.
Trees and road, hill and distance—all coaxed into one.   Stern shapelessness, I cannot place myself. Wouldn’t know right so near to evening. Thoughts against thought will run,   unsettled in currents: fish, aswim down suddened light.
like this, then—boat that drifts for the shore, done   with floating blind. At the edge of my vision, a white   something. Sand bar? Rock break? There’s not enough sight to say. Will I learn at last how much such doubts have won? So near to evening, thoughts against thought will run.
Near chamomile and rosebud potpourri a pair of porcelain camels rest, bit players glazed and unaware of this faux Nativity. Peasant extras lift their silent, pleasing prayers with seasonal adoration. None harbors signs of panic: no goats or stable maids, no wise trio, those dazzled star readers bearing gifts of frankincense and myrrh. Not the puzzled carpenter from Galilee. Not the curious shepherds, nor the virgin exhausted still from her spotless labor.
These figures encircle a barren trough. Where have you gone, O lost Christ child? In truth, the Messiah’s size is the stuff of legend: he’s been abducted. (No Ascension- Come-Early before the ministry begins) Not much bigger than a packing peanut, the babe’s become an object of devotion, begotten for those tenacious paws’ wild swatting or mouth that totes the Savior in haste. We spy the vacancy and know the culprit: fat Larry, golden pear and roly-poly cat,
that ring-tailed and recidivist felon. Regular brigand of the infant Son, he mocks this fragile coffee-table cast. We joke that his is a holy commission, converting birthplace to an empty tomb, Bethlehem yoking the born and risen. Each time He’s someplace new: laundry room or water dish. Under chair, in basement, unknown manger now. And still His grace and tiny lacquered limbs feel ever present, embodying their reliquaried space.
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.