For Mary Oliver, Poet

Mary Oliver, the poet, died last week at 83. Intensely private, she rarely granted interviews, but I heard one on the radio this morning. When gently probed by her interviewer, she hinted at a dark and menacing childhood, and said that writing poems about her rambles in the New England woods saved her. For her, nature was far safer and infinitely more understandable than people, although she said she became more trusting and less solitary as she got older.

She sounded small with a hint of raspy tenseness, as if unwilling to let her words spill out in person, as she did on paper. It surprised me to hear she was a lifelong smoker; her poems are so healthy and natural and Buddhist-like, but she smoked to the end. That tenseness, probably.

Her poems speak freely of wild geese and grasshoppers and birds and foxes and the lovely ocean; intensely spiritual without much mention of a creator, just hints and suggestions.

Here’s one of my favorites,  from House of Light.

I Go Down to the Shore

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall–
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

I’m going for a walk now.  A storm has passed through and left the wind behind to sweep up.  Maybe I’ll see an osprey or two.  Mary’s spirit may be out there somewhere; I like to think so.

Posted in beauty, birds, books, death, emotions, human interest, love, nature, poetry, psychology, relationships, sadness, seashore, senior citizens, spirituality, trauma, Uncategorized, weather, women | 1 Comment

The Fiddler

It’s not you, my dear.
You love me as well as you can.
You couldn’t love me any better.

It’s just that you’re a fiddler
trying to play a Stradivarius.
You’re a good fiddler,
but I’m not a fiddle.
You have to work too hard
to pull sweet music from me.

Is it really worth the sweat?

Posted in emotions, human interest, love, music, poetry, psychology, relationships, romance, Uncategorized | 2 Comments


The sunset starts slowly,
A little softness,
a sheared off cloud
with a pinkish base
and golden top.

I look away~
and when I return
there’s a crimson spot
peeking beneath the cloud,
just a wink of brilliant orange.
But as I watch, the spot spreads
until it becomes an orb
of deep golden crimson,
and as it touches the sea
it sinks slowly, slowly
until it’s swallowed up.

But then comes the real show.
The afterglow washes the sky
in a sweep of glory
that fills the evening
with a miracle of color,
as if the swallowed sun,
released from its spherical constraints
had dispersed itself into a wider realm.

Posted in beauty, emotions, nature, poetry, seashore, spirituality | Tagged | 2 Comments

Letting Go

So many things still remind me. The little egg pan he gave me because he had two, the talking Christmas teddy bear, NPR, the Friday night news, the Valentine earrings, the monitor right in front of my eyes – he bought it for me.  The feel of a pillow in the small of my back, even that…

At first the memories nearly did me in. But lately, I’m finding that I can hold them more lightly, with an open palm. That’s the trick I think. To be able to remember, without a tight grip.

Posted in emotions, human interest, love, nostalgia, poetry, psychology, relationships, sadness, spirituality, women | 4 Comments

The Enemy

I stared at Fear today.
Standing naked
on trembly legs,
I looked him in the eye.
He stood there
staring back,
hugely terrible
with gaping maw,
but did not move
to devour me.
As I stared back
he seemed to shrink
and I to grow,
until we were
of equal size.

Posted in emotions, fear, poetry, psychology | Leave a comment

Lucas, the Wonder Dog

He’s the first to greet me when I ring the doorbell. Twenty pounds of cuddlesome friendliness. A dust mop on four legs with a stumpy little metronome of a tail. Big brown eyes that say Hi, how are you? Wanna play?  How about petting me?

And when he bounds across the back yard like a jack rabbit, up one side and down the other, I feel like I’m right there with him; it’s me bouncing through the air with the greatest of ease, me with no limits; me eating up the air with happiness.

Posted in beauty, dogs, emotions, friendship, human interest, love, mother, nature, pets, poetry, psychology, relationships, spirituality, women | Tagged | Leave a comment

Tough Love

You say you need discipline,
you need me to remind
you of things undone.
You want me to
care enough to push.
I can push all right,
but it wouldn’t come
from caring – it would
come from controlling –
it would come
from The Critic.
How can I push from love?
How can I not be a nice guy?
You want me
to love you enough
to be tough.
I’ve never done this before.
You ask a lot.
But OK.

Posted in adolescence, children, emotions, family, human interest, love, mother, poetry, psychology, relationships, spirituality | 2 Comments

Winter Solstice

Today is the winter solstice.
I remember another one,
many years ago,
when we were both younger.
I walked across campus
to meet you for lunch,
mother and son.
As I crossed the
little bridge over the pond
I saw you sitting down below,
at the water’s edge, cross-legged,
head slightly bowed,
as a mother duck and
her fuzzy little offspring
waddled toward the pond.
When I joined you, you
didn’t have much to say.
Life was hard for you
and you wondered if
it was worth the effort.
We just sat there, mostly.
Looking at the ducks.

Posted in emotions, family, human interest, love, mother, nature, poetry, psychology, relationships, sadness, spirituality, winter | Leave a comment

A Spanish Lesson

“Tu eres mio,” he said,
explaining the difference
between the temporary
and permanent conditions.
“Eres is permanent and
estas is temporary.”
“Tue eres mio, tambien,”
she whispered back.
And then they spoke of
other things,
and came at last
to their differences–
irreconcilable, as it turned out,
and those three words
are all that’s left of
love that might have been.

Posted in emotions, human interest, love, poetry, psychology, relationships, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My Dad’s Salad Bowl Set

Several years after my father died, and my mother downgraded to a small apartment in an Assisted Living Facility, she didn’t have enough space for a lot of her treasures. I politely declined a great many of them, having treasures of my own and barely enough room for even those.

But one little treasure of hers that I took was my father’s wooden salad bowl set. Let me tell you a little about my dad. A boy who started life in rural Georgia in the middle of the depression and delivered newspapers for five cents a week so he could buy a second-hand bike. And who ended life as a retired USAF Lt. Colonel driving a Caddy. In between is a long story of duty, responsibility, and wise investments.

My dad appreciated nice things, and he chose them with care. My mom was the design person, but dad took great interest and tried to purchase the best-made, longest-lasting pieces they could afford. Mom said that he had bought the handmade salad bowl set in Puerto Rico, where we were stationed at the time. The bowls were carved from one piece of wood, teak maybe. She told me how thoroughly he considered several different sets before settling on that particular one.

I never knew the history of the salad bowl set when I lived at home. In fact, I barely remember it. But now it sits on my dining room table with the smaller bowls and matching servers nestled inside. I just oiled it real good, inside and out, making its golden wood gleam.

Posted in beauty, emotions, family, father, human interest, love, mother, nostalgia, psychology, relationships, senior citizens, spirituality | Leave a comment