I had the rare pleasure of seeing Mary Oliver read tonight. She had a peaceful, grounded presence that I expected from having read her poems. But what surprised me is how delightfully funny she was, standing up there at the podium in her signature black turtleneck, fumbling around with her books as she mumbled self-deprecating little anecdotes here and there.
Here is one of the poems she read that stayed with me when I left the auditorium an hour ago…
Something came up
out of the dark.
It wasn’t anything I had ever seen before.
It wasn’t an animal
or a flower,
unless it was both.
Something came up out of the water,
a head the size of a cat
but muddy and without ears.
I don’t know what God is.
I don’t know what death is.
But I believe they have between them
some fervent and necessary arrangement.
melancholy leaves me breathless…
Water from the heavens! Electricity from the source!
Both of them mad to create something!
The lighting brighter than any flower.
The thunder without a drowsy bone in its body.
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
Two or three times in my life I discovered love.
Each time it seemed to solve everything.
Each time it solved a great many things
but not everything.
Yet left me as grateful as if it had indeed, and
thoroughly, solved everything.
God, rest in my heart
and fortify me,
take away my hunger for answers,
let the hours play upon my body
like the hands of my beloved.
Let the cathead appear again-
the smallest of your mysteries,
some wild cousin of my own blood probably-
some cousin of my own wild blood probably,
in the black dinner-bowl of the pond.
Death waits for me, I know it, around
one corner or another.
This doesn’t amuse me.
Neither does it frighten me.
After the rain, I went back into the field of sunflowers.
It was cool, and I was anything but drowsy.
I walked slowly, and listened
to the crazy roots, in the drenched earth, laughing and growing.