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.
After the tourist’s two blue insomniac nights, patrols of all that had been lost, botched, or sweet but severed, during the Albinoni he went off, up, away, so that, say, the sudden recall of his late mother in grainy portrait in her yearbook, over the captions: “brightest,” and—in the quaint patois of the gentry during their Depression—“most attractive,” and the despair she may have felt as children and alcohol supervened: if any such feckless maundering occurred to him . . . Well, off, up and away went she as well, borne heavenward on the andante’s strains. Two trumpets. One great organ. Peace might well lie at hand. Peace was at hand. During Martini’s toccata in C,
a vision of his tall naked wife, under a tall naked sun, produced in him in the church a subtle stirring, even a mild tumescence, which he would otherwise have described as out of order, were it not that this newer order arched so beyond any scheme he’d normally posit that within it all things were possible, as they are, it is said, with God, Who during the Manfredini revealed Himself to our tourist in what he construed as His human form, His prison garb stained and rent, His savaged body hefted by men and women—their countenances looking more angry than mournful— from a loud place like that bar on the corner of Thakurova and Evropska, which he had walked by that evening on his way to transport: the Metro, which carried him into this old quarter
in a car along with that beauteous, amorous young Czech couple with their red-tipped white staffs and whited eyes, then spilled him out to rumpsteak with garlic, alone, and then to the 9 p.m. concert, alone. During the Ave Maria of Schubert, he saw a joy he hadn’t seen in the tears of St. Peter as rendered faceforth by an artist, Swiss of all things, unknown to him till that forenoon in the Castle gallery. The wailing weanling calves of his childhood now placidly grazed. The famous small songbirds lit on the outstretched arms of Francis. Peter’s tears had appeared only woeful this morning. The hour of music concluded, the tourist walked, though it felt still like soaring, his cobblestone-wearied heels devoid of any pain, back into this world, broken and joyous and praying,
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.
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.
Study war no more
Mar 18, 2011
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).