a schoolhouse of little words

A muscle puller designed by my Oregonian friend
A mussel puller in Monterey designed by Adam Mathias Cole, Corvalis, Oregon. Photo taken by me.
“Breakage”-Mary Oliver
I go down to the edge of the sea.
How everything shines in the morning light.
The cusp of the whelk,
the broken cupboard of the clam,
the opened, blue mussels,
moon snails, pale pink and barnacle scarred —
and nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split,
dropped by the gulls onto the gray rocks and all the
moisture gone.
It’s like a schoolhouse
of little words.
First you figure out what each one means by itself,
the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop
full of moonlight.
Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.


5 thoughts on “a schoolhouse of little words

  1. A Mary Oliver poem I love:


    made this yellow-white lace-mass
    that the sea has brought to the shore
    and left—

    a little like popcorn stuck to itself —
    or a ball of prized lace-strings rolled up tight —
    or a handful of fingerling shells pasted together
    each with a tear where something, perhaps,

    fled into the sea. I brought it home
    out of the uncombed morning and consulted
    among my books. I do not know
    what to call this sharpest desire

    to discover a name,
    but there it is, suddenly, clearly
    illustrated on the page, alerting my old heart
    to the arrival of another strange and singular

    moment of happiness: to know that it was
    the egg case of an ocean shell, the
    left-handed whelk,
    which, in its proper season,

    spews forth its progeny in such
    glutenous and faintly
    glimmering fashion; each one
    tears itself free

    and what is left rides to shore, one more
    sweet-as-honey riddle for the wanderer
    whose tongue is agile, whose mind
    in the world’s riotous plenty,

    wants syntax, connections, lists,
    and most of all names to set beside the multitudinous
    stars, flowers, sea creatures, rocks, trees.
    The egg case of the left-handed whelk

    sits on my shelf in front of, as it happens, Blake.
    Sometimes I dream
    that everything in the world is here, in my room,
    in a great closet, named and orderly,

    and I am here too, in front of it,
    hardly able to see for the flash and the brightness—
    and sometimes I am that madcap person clapping my hands and singing;
    and sometimes I am that quiet person down on my knees.

    [ Mary Oliver]

  2. So I think my role on this blog is going to be the person who makes comments that have nothing to do with poetry . . .

    I just wanted to say that my grandpa and I were watching a cooking show, and a lady made a very savory mussel dish that involved mussels steamed in butter and white wine, aioli, and a fennel and grapefruit salad.

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