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.
I occasionally hear parents complain that their elementary school children have ended up studying dinosaurs for several years in a row. A few grades go by and suddenly it seems like the only specialized knowledge their child has picked up is how to tell a Pachycephalosaurus from a Pentaceratops. As for teachers, they know that kids love studying dinosaurs.
No nesting. You are the nest. No wind, no earthquake, no fire; Only still small stirring within. More motion, no fledgling— Only slippery sharp shards shattered below. Quiet. Only stillness will bear you To the fullness of time.
In Homer’s Odyssey the Sirens’ song was an enchanting tune, impossible to resist, that lured lonely sailors toward a perilous shoreline, where they would die when their ships crashed against the jagged rocks. In the mesmerizing documentary The Bridge, the Sirens’ song is the strange allure of San Francisco’s magnificent Golden Gate Bridge.
When I’m reading a joke out loud from a new joke book, I hear my voice start to falter, from laughter, almost to weep, from laughter, the way my sister’s voice did as a child or a woman, especially if somebody made a bathroom joke; and my father’s voice did, when he wasn’t just poking fun at someone, when he found something really funny; slapstick got him laughing that way, sometimes. A laughter beyond words, maybe beyond grief. As I hear myself laughing like them, with them, I say: a laughter beyond death.
Before the dust had settled from the tramping boots, he’d appeared. Eyes beheld him to their confusion but when he breathed upon them they remembered the spring green hills of Galilee, the cool evening air scented of olive, laurel, clematis, myrtle. A peace they could not reckon. A dove called.
Left to the silence, they could hardly recognize themselves. How strangely their voices sounded and what unlikely things they must have said.
During Hitler’s siege of Leningrad in the winter of 1941–42, the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the entire Leningrad Philharmonic were evacuated from the city. A performance of Shostakovich’s seventh symphony, dedicated to the city of Leningrad, was planned for August 9, 1942. There were barely enough musicians left in the city to perform it. The score had to be flown in over German lines, and musicians were pulled from the front lines to bolster the meager ranks of musicians left behind. This performance was a show of resistance in a city which had just lost 1.2 million people (NPR, November 2).