Rumi says in that wonderful line, ‘there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.’ A poem is a kind of prayer. It can startle us with its frankness, comfort us with humor, and ask important questions.
Poet Mary Oliver grew up in a sad, depressed place. She says poetry saved her life. Her poems were read on the radio (on The Writers’ Almanac), lots of them, for years. Now, there’s a daily Almanac podcast. Garrison Keillor (or his summer sub Billy Collins) reads them to you while you’re otherwise engaged in buttering bagels or shooing squirrels.
They (the poems, not the bagels) have welcome stickiness. You hear one and a day later it’s still with you, still there in the brainpan, delivering some Good Thing of use. It’s what literary critics call ” a bearshit-on-the-trail” poem ~ a true and clear picture of the familiar that starts in the today and ends in the infinite.
Oliver’s poetry is filled with imagery of the natural world ~ opossums crossing the street, sunflowers and black oaks in the sunshine. She stands by her door every morning, notebook and pen in hand. Then she invites us in. I’m utterly dependent on her, the way she creates beauty out of imperfection, the way her “words are too wonderful for words.”
A THOUSAND MORNINGS
All night my heart makes its way
however it can over the rough ground
of uncertainties, but only until night
meets and then is overwhelmed by
morning, the light deepening, the
wind easing and just waiting, as I
too wait (and when have I ever been
disappointed?) for redbird to sing.
Everything good is simple: a soft boiled egg…toast fresh from the oven with a pat of butter swimming in the center…steam off a cup of black coffee… John Coltrane bringing me ‘Violets for My Furs’
Most simple things are good: Lines on a yellow legal pad… dimples defining a smile…a square of gray cashmere that can be a scarf… Miles Davis ‘Kind of Blue’
Some things clear are complicated: believing in a religion…trying to be a good person…getting rid of folk who depress you…Horace Silver ‘Blowing the Blues Away’
Complicated things can be clear: Dvorak’s ‘New World’ Symphony… Alvin Ailey’s ‘Revelations’… Mae Jemison’s riding in space… Mingus ‘Live at Carnegie Hall’
All things good are good: poetry… patience… a ripe tomato on the vine… a bat in flight… the new moon…me in your arms… things like that
…and people like that. Like the boy who grew up on a farm where what counted was skill with a plow, not a pen. Seamus Heaney’s poetry isn’t fancied up. His volumes of work showcase his cleverness and wisdom. He’s a plainspoken genius in Irish tweed.
Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;
Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.
And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.
So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me
Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.
Poetry has plenty to give.
It has something for you.
Poets like Joy Harjo are welcome at my table.
Is there a poet that feeds you?
Meet you here next Sunday.