in memoriam: Mary Oliver

I couldn’t choose one poem, so here are two.

     

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

     

Vultures

Like large dark
lazy
butterflies they sweep over
the glades looking
for death,
to eat it,
to make it vanish,
to make of it the miracle:
resurrection…
…Locked into
the blaze of our own bodies
we watch them
wheeling and drifting, we
honor them and we
loathe them,
however wise the doctrine,
however magnificent the cycles,
however ultimately sweet
the huddle of death to fuel
those powerful wings.

     
RIP.

notes from the road: intersecting with Delaney

It was a magnificent treat to intersect with my dear girl the other day, as planned, at my home brewery. Here’s what Delaney posted.

Today was an excellent day of responsible adult hydration, new wonderful friends, and the celebration of a sister friend. Julia, this poem is from a woman who would always drive states for you.

.

One woman drives across five states just to see her. The woman being driven to has no idea anyone’s headed her way. The driving woman crosses three bridges & seven lakes just to get to her door. She stops along the highway, wades into the soggy ground, cuts down coral-eyed cattails, carries them to her car as if they might be sherbet orange, long-stemmed, Confederate roses, sheared for Sherman himself. For two days she drives toward the woman in Kentucky, sleeping in rest areas with her seat lowered all the way back, doors locked. When she reaches the state line it’s misting. The tired pedal-to-the-metal woman finally calls ahead. I’m here, she says. Who’s this? The woman being driven to, who has never checked her oil, asks. The driving woman reminds her of the recent writing workshop where they shared love for all things out-of-doors and lyrical. Come, have lunch with me, the driving woman invites. They eat spinach salads with different kinds of dressing. They talk about driving, the third thing they both love and how fast clouds can change from state line to state line. The didn’t-know-she-was-coming woman stares at she who has just arrived. She tries to read the mighty spinach leaves in her bowl, privately marveling at the driving woman’s muscled spontaneity. She can hardly believe this almost stranger has made it across five states just to have lunch with her. She wonders where this mad driving woman will sleep tonight. She is of two driving minds. One convertible. One hardtop. The driving woman shows her pictures of her children. Beautiful, the other does not say. Before long words run out of petrol. The woman who is home, but without pictures of her own, announces she must go. The driving woman frets & flames, May I walk you to your car? They walk. The driver changes two lanes in third gear, fast. The trunk opens. The Mario Andretti look-alike fills the other woman’s arms with sable-sheared cattails. Five feet high & badly in need of sunlight & proudly stolen from across five states. The woman with no children of her own pulls their twenty pounds in close, resting them over her Peter-Panning heart. Her lungs empty out, then fill, then fill again with the surge of birth & surprise. For two years, until their velvet bodies begin (and end) to fall to pieces, every time the driven-to woman passes the bouquet of them, there, in the vase by the front door, she is reminded of what falling in love, without permission, smells like. Each time she reaches for her keys, she recalls what you must be willing to turn into for love: spiny oyster mushroom, damson, salt marsh, cedar, creosote, new bud of pomegranate, Aegean sage blue sea, fig, blueberry, marigold, leaf fall, fogs eye, dusty miller, thief-of-the-night.

–“Cattails” by Nikky Finney

…Nikky Finney, who was the first speaker I saw at West Virginia Wesleyan College when I traveled there to visit and investigate whether I wanted to work toward my MFA there, two and a half years ago. I graduated last week, and it is through this program that I know Delaney. So this is all just so perfect.

D, I adore you. Thanks for the intersection and inspiration. I’ll see you soon in your new home. Lots of love.

words of encouragement (?) from Mom

My mother sent me this the other day.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” [Bilbo] used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

–from The Fellowship of The Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien

A page or two earlier, I found this.

“The road goes on forever,” said Pippen; “but I can’t without a rest. It is high time for lunch.”

So we will just try and keep both sentiments in mind.


notes from the road: Delaney drives on

Don’t worry, I’ll be back with the details of my own travels tomorrow!

Delaney in the west somewhere between CA and TX

After the teacher asked if anyone
had a sacred place
and the students fidgeted and shrank
.
in their chairs, the most serious of them all
said it was his car,
being in it alone, his tape deck playing
.
things he’d chosen, and others knew the truth
had been spoken
and began speaking about their rooms,
.
their hiding places, but the car kept coming up,
the car in motion,
music filling it, and sometimes one other person
.
who understood the bright altar of the dashboard
and how far away
a car could take him from the need
.
to speak, or to answer, the key
in having a key
and putting it in, and going.

–“The Sacred,” Stephen Dunn

notes from the road: Delaney with a friend

To preserve the privacy of the other party, this one comes sans photo. Delaney’s still on the road in California. She writes, “Today’s poem is brought to you via five years of ride or die friendship… you are my rock and we might be nuts but we are totally the good kind. Thank you so much for your time in my life.”

Glow of ice on the dark maples,
shape of a blue fish in the clouds,
hum of tires, stutter of the car radio.
You know the highway is kindly,
the curve of it, your family at the end of it,
the lull of the wheels, the sudden view
of a mill town dropped among the trees
thin as eyelashes, and the buildings,
small heaving chest with breaths
of smoke. And a sudden tenderness
fills you for the idea of people,
their wills and habits, the machinery
of their kindness, the way meals are
served with salt and with a spoon.
And you think of them as birds
driven by some wind, and such mercy
passes that it makes you weep for it
and soon you can’t see the road
for the awful kindness of it, and
the idea of you, your name vanishes
leaving you so alone that you must reclaim
it as fast as you can in thought,
that dark Birds circling over
the road until you are lost, or found
again and its wide wings lacing the blue
moving sky, the car now in motion
past the flash of sun again on an icy branch,
the self safely wrapped back inside its body,
which is your own, driving a car, yours.

–“Highway” by Gene Zeiger

notes from the road: Delaney on Hwy 1, Carmel-By-the-Sea, California

A brief series begins here. My dear, dear friend Delaney McLemore is on a road trip of her own, eastbound as I am westbound, and she’s doing a few posts along the way that I wanted to share here (with her permission, of course).

Delaney on Hwy 1

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading me wherever I choose.
.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune.
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

–Whitman, from “Song of the Open Road”

(for my literary followers, Carmel should evoke Steinbeck, obviously.)

Thanks, D. Safe travels to us all.