When I waited for you outside, clutching the tissues
and pulling up tufts of grass, your friend came over
and, his eyes on the horizon, said you lived in this town.
You couldn’t be seen exiting with me.
I nodded, ducking back into the paneled saloon
where he barred my way, sprawled in a disk of drool.
He agreed to drive me to the film festival.
You’d be there in the dark with strange women and men,
absorbed in pictures more solid than these
if I ever found you again.
I became aware of the world’s tenderness,
the profound beneficence of all that surrounded me,
the blissful bond between me and all of creation,
and I realized that the joy I sought in you was not only
secreted within you, but breathed around me everywhere,
in the speeding street sounds,
in the hem of a comically lifted skirt,
in the metallic yet tender drone of the wind,
in the autumn clouds bloated with rain.
I realized that the world does not represent a struggle at all,
or a predaceous sequence of chance events,
but the shimmering bliss, beneficent trepidation,
a gift bestowed upon us and unappreciated.
He was dark, he was filled with stories like the serpent in myths; each white tooth contained a story and each story a hundred others, they were all within him, intertwined, sleeping. The stranger, flashing with legends, he cannot be overcome. Once they have escaped him, these hymns, these jokes, these lies join with air, they are breathed, they cannot be filtered out. He is like the prow of a ship cutting through seas of sleep. Silence is mysterious, but stories fill us like the sun.
Am I no longer young,
and still not half-perfect?
Let me keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still
and learning to be astonished.
–Mary Oliver, excerpt from her poem “Messenger.”
See our latest Fall issue for three new poems by Mary Oliver.
Photograph by Ludwig Windstosser, Pappel am Bodensee, 1950.
At 6:00 PM
the light is strange, doesn’t seem to know what to do
with itself, sharp and darting. But in truth this March light
has been queer all day, creeping through corridors,
crashing the shadows of birds on walls, casting
in motion or etching in stillness unleaved branches
even as the arcunus is in heavy, early bud. Did you know
there are people who speak to no one for days
at a time, and even stranger, this is not something
to which they have committed?
The rose is obsolete
but each petal ends in
an edge, the double facet
cementing the grooved
columns of air – The edge
cuts without cutting
meets – nothing – renews
itself in metal or porcelain –
whither? It ends –
But if it ends
the start is begun
so that to engage roses