This time of year, what with bulbs bursting through to light, crashing headlong into color, puff balls of sudden pink, cloud clumps of eager violet and white crowding, clustering, clambering up and along each naked stem and branch, what with the gray lawn’s sweet, impulsive greening, the chill creek’s snow-melt speedy surface coat of foam and flashing ripples, what with these birdsong brimming dawns, these chirping, marsh-born, peeper chants that hymn the day to rest, what with such hastening, glad abandon rushing, coursing, flooding, charging toward life, tales of a vacant tomb, of bindings cast like scattered husks and the rumbling of a cold, dead rock to clear the way for all that is to come, such tales seem almost natural. What else should we have expected, after all?
One of Mary Oliver's supreme gifts is her ability to find language for rapture as she responds to nature and our place within it. Even as she gazes into putrid swamps and the brutal food chain, she finds beauty and light. She explores and celebrates the mystery of our deaths. With her precise imagery, Oliver transposes the chaos of death's threat into a world of symmetry and amazement.
This morning shows up at my bedside like a mother holding a glass of water, so I say thank you, glancing out the window at the tiny farmhouse flung into the lap of emerald hills below, and feel the sweetness sleep has brought, such sweetness I feel I could pen a volume on the history of sugar, and make readers love it. I am giddy with the lack of war, of pain, amazed at the silent terrible wonder of my health. So I make a rosary of the room, I pray the bedpost, the window panes. I put our children on two doorknobs, our sick friends on chair rungs. Like the aperture of a camera, the morning opens and keeps on opening till the room is filled with rosy light and I could believe anything, that my ancient mother may still get well and thrive, that later when someone robs the bank, all the tellers may survive.
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.
Michael Izbicki grew up in a nondenominational church in California. A National Merit Scholarship finalist, he chose to go to the U.S. Naval Academy out of a sense of duty to his country during a time of war. At the naval academy he began to doubt whether the career to which he had committed himself could be squared with the tenets of just war doctrine. He got in trouble when he responded no to this exam question: "If given the order, would you launch a missile carrying a nuclear warhead?" After a four-year legal battle, the navy discharged him as a conscientious objector. Izbicki may have to reimburse the service for part or all of his education (New York Times, February 22).