The Day Mary Oliver Died

There are trees
in the forest near my home
that hold the world together,
their roots married
to the bones of the earth.

The little boy in me knows
they are eternal,
the man I’ve become
has seen them fallen,
their ancient trunks softening,
the border between themselves and everything
opening, slowly opening.

If only she could tell us now
what it is to fall—
how would the sharp praise of her voice shape
that long, slow exhale
of becoming what so astonished her?

Mary Oliver died one year ago today.

I think Wild Geese might have been the first poem that spoke to my adult self. Not that my adult self knew what to do with it. But it called from just over a far horizon that was barely coming into view. It gave me something to muddle towards.

It’s hard to imagine a better compliment for a piece of art. Giving each other something to muddle towards is—at least in my experience—about the best we can do.

And Mary Oliver has given me many.

When I heard she’d died I had a visceral sensation of something huge and essential crashing down. So I started this poem that day. But it took coming back to it a few times over the past year before it felt shareable.

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