an exercise in brevity

We woke up to a bit of a thunderstorm this morning and immediately I remembered Jean Toomer’s “Storm Ending”. The thunder wasn’t so voluminous as to warrant lines like “Thunder blossoms gorgeously above our heads,/Great, hollow, bell-like flowers,/Rumbling in the wind,” yet these words fluttered through my mind nonetheless, bringing calm and a slight smile.

It takes a deft hand and careful imagery to allow for beauty in the clatter that has frightened me since childhood, yet here, he has written thunder so perfectly that I’ve reconsidered its possibilities. Brushstrokes of poetry can retrain our vision, reset our judgement, reveal the truth beyond the scope of our sight…reminding us that while our perception of the world becomes our reality, it isn’t necessarily everyone’s reality. Reminding us that seeing beyond our ego, beyond our singular experience is the only way to truly absorb the vivacity of the world we live in. Reminding us that in any given situation, there are possibilities beyond what our perspective allows us to realize. Reminding us that with a small shift in understanding, things can look completely different. Reminding us that in this life, beauty can be found in the noisy, in the frightening, in the unexpected.

(Day 38…is this cheating? perhaps…but also, I had this moment, and this is all I really had to say about it…I say it counts!)

 

escape

It’s been a Mary Oliver kind of day. Her words have nourished me as I meandered rather blindly throughout the sometimes chaotic moments of the last fourteen hours.

I was particularly struck by her poem “Messenger” today. I’ve read this poem before and thought “how lovely”, but today, well, today, it was medicinal. As I read the words and took in their meaning, my inner self paused, took a breath and relaxed. This was the poem that I needed…it was the reminder of my place and my purpose that was absolutely necessary to survival. And this is why I love poetry as I do. It meets me wherever I am and extends what I need in order to find my center.

Today, this is what I needed to read:

from “Messenger” by Mary Oliver

“My work is loving the world.

Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird–

equal seekers of sweetness.

Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.

Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

 

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?

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.”

There is more to this poem, of course, but this is the part that struck me most. This idea that “My work is loving the world…my work,/which is mostly standing still and learning to be/astonished” was what I needed to sustain me today. Because when it comes down to it, no matter how much work I do at school, no matter how stressful that can be, my real work is loving the world. Period. (as an aside, I sort of really love the complete sentence in that first line–it is so delicate and simple as the deepest truths have the potential to be). And sometimes the reminder of that calling to love the world in all its complexity and effortless beauty is required. We blind ourselves in the worries and wants of the world and in our inability to ever really be enough in any given moment and we forget that without the richness of the most basic love–a love that allows us to be still and astonished, the rest is quite worthless.

So, as I proceeded through a day of days, I stopped to observe the wisps of clouds gliding across a serene blue sky, to notice the blades of grass jutting through the rocks, to feel the breeze on my face and the warm embrace of the sunlight. I got out of my own head, saw past my “stuff” and my imperfection and was in the world with eyes open to its wonder. Grateful for such a gift as those moments. Grateful for Mary Oliver for steering me there and grateful for poetry for speaking a language that my heart and mind crave in all moments of all days.

(Day 20–which feels like a landmark?)

 

 

impact

Ask any student who has set foot in my classroom and they will tell you “Mrs. Clark is super passionate about words…words matter after all.” And they would be right, I am sort of constantly in awe of what we as humans are able to do simply in the arrangement and selection of the words we wield. We can brandish them dangerously, carelessly damaging others with rancor and vitriol. Or, we can employ them meaningfully, intentionally provoking thought with depth and weight.

One of the reasons poetry resonates with me the way that it does is that I find myself in constant wonder of the poet’s word craft–of their ability to be so precise in their execution of word economy, while at the same time creating gorgeous imagery or intensity or moments to pause and wonder or heightened emotion or all of these and more. It is the surprise in the organization that gets me, the arrangement I would never have considered that drops my jaw. I love the form that creates the content as much as the content itself.

~~~“Breakage” by Mary Oliver~~~

I say all of this because Mary Oliver died today. Mary Oliver was a poet that I believe, honestly, could reach anyone as she wrote honestly and simply yet somehow in her simple language led readers into the complexity of human emotion and experience. She didn’t require fancy forms or intricate language; she didn’t write beyond her experience, no matter how simple the moments may have been; she didn’t reach for what wasn’t true to her and in maintaining that sincerity, her readers were able to find their true selves in her work.

~~~ From “The Journey” by Mary Oliver~~~

“…

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly recognize as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do–

determined to save

the only life you could save.”

In the natural world Mary Oliver sought solace and God and understanding of life and its proverbial mysteriousness and through the natural world she brought the rest of us solace and God and an understanding of life. She opened my eyes to not just the beauty in the world around me but to its nuance and to a new way of paying attention to it. Her words, her insight, her description all still my soul.

~~~“Fall” by Mary Oliver~~~

(the last stanza here is just perfection and will alter your perception of rain forever)

And then there are the Mary Oliver poems that walked me through grief at times where grief felt heavier that what I could shoulder alone. Except, I wasn’t alone. She had shouldered it already. She had walked this path and she recorded it in her writing–with hope, with honesty and with love. Through loss, through illness I have almost religiously turned to Mary Oliver’s work as a sort of prayer when my prayers were sort of lost in the wilderness. I turned to her work to restore my hope and my faith, and she never failed me, not one single time.

 “Praying” by Mary Oliver

“It doesn’t have to be

The blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch

 

a few words together and don’t try

to make them elaborate, this isn’t

a contest but the doorway

 

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.”

 

“…the doorway/into thanks…” Mary Oliver’s work will continue to be a part of my daily reading, my daily stillness, my daily search for peace in the chaos of the world. My gratitude is without bounds–not just for a life well lived, but for a dedication to sharing that life with others through her words…for the impression she has made in my heart and the impact she has made in my vision and in my life. Mary Oliver may have left the physical world today, but she has also left behind her words–a wealth, a storehouse of beauty and reminders of goodness. And that is forever.

(Day 12…I was so sad to hear about Mary Oliver’s passing today, but in writing about her work, I found so much more. Glad for this outlet that allowed for that to happen)