Monthly Archives: May 2017

questions without answers

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Hummingbirds
by Mary Oliver

The female, and two chicks,
each no bigger than my thumb,
scattered,
shimmering
in their pale-green dresses;
then they rose, tiny fireworks,
into the leaves
and hovered;
then they sat down,
each one with dainty, charcoal feet –
each one on a slender branch –
and looked at me.
I had meant no harm,
I had simply
climbed the tree
for something to do
on a summer day,
not knowing they were there,
ready to burst the ledges
of their mossy nest
and to fly, for the first time,
in their sea-green helmets,
with brisk, metallic tails –
each tulled wing,
with every dollop of flight,
drawing a perfect wheel
across the air.
Then, with a series of jerks,
they paused in front of me
and, dark-eyed, stared –
as though I were a flower –
and then,
like three tosses of silvery water,
they were gone.
Alone,
in the crown of the tree,
I went to China,
I went to Prague;
I died, and was born in the spring;
I found you, and loved you, again.
Later the darkness fell
and the solid moon
like a white pond rose.
But I wasn’t in any hurry.
Likely I visted all
the shimmering, heart-stabbing
questions without answers
before I climbed down.

how it feels

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Dreams
by Mary Oliver

All night
the dark buds of dreams
open
richly.

In the center
of every petal
is a letter,
and you imagine

if you could only remember
and string them all together
they would spell the answer.
It is a long night,

and not an easy one—-
you have so many branches,
and there are diversions—-
birds that come and go,

the black fox that lies down
to sleep beneath you,
the moon staring
with her bone-white eye.

Finally you have spent
all the energy you can
and you drag from the ground
the muddy skirt of your roots

and leap awake
with two or three syllables
like water in your mouth
and a sense

of loss—-a memory
not yet of a word,
certainly not yet the answer—-
only how it feels

when deep in the tree
all the locks click open,
and the fire surges through the wood,
and the blossoms blossom.

dark and secret

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The Mockingbird
by Mary Oliver

All summer
the mockingbird
in his pearl-gray coat
and his white-windowed wings

flies
from the hedge to the top of the pine
and begins to sing, but it’s neither
lilting nor lovely,

for he is the thief of other sound–
whistles and truck brakes and dry hinges
plus all the songs
of other birds in his neighborhood;

mimicking and elaborating,
he sings with humor and bravado,
so I have to wait a long time
for the softer voice of his own life

to come through. He begins
by giving up all his usual flutter
and settling down on the pine’s forelock
then looking around

as though to make sure he’s alone;
then he slaps each wing against his breast,
where his heart is,
and copying nothing, begins

easing into it
as though it was not half so easy
as rollicking,
as though his subject now

was his true self,
which of course was as dark and secret
as anyone else’s,
and it was too hard–

perhaps you understand–
to speak or to sing it
to anything or anyone
but the sky.

to enter fire

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Sunrise
Mary Oliver

You can
die for it–
an idea,
or the world. People

have done so,
brilliantly,
letting
their small bodies be bound

to the stake,
creating
an unforgettable
fury of light. But

this morning,
climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar
fabric of dawn, I thought

of China,

and India
and Europe, and I thought
how the sun

blazes
for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises

under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?

What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it

whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter
fire.

buds of dreams

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Dreams
By Mary Oliver

All night
the dark buds of dreams
open
richly.

In the center
of every petal
is a letter,
and you imagine

if you could only remember
and string them all together
they would spell the answer.
It is a long night,

and not an easy one—-
you have so many branches,
and there are diversions—-
birds that come and go,

the black fox that lies down
to sleep beneath you,
the moon staring
with her bone-white eye.

Finally you have spent
all the energy you can
and you drag from the ground
the muddy skirt of your roots

and leap awake
with two or three syllables
like water in your mouth
and a sense

of loss—-a memory
not yet of a word,
certainly not yet the answer—-
only how it feels

when deep in the tree
all the locks click open,
and the fire surges through the wood,
and the blossoms blossom.

mother bear

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Spring

by Mary Oliver

Somewhere
a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her
rising
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees.
Whatever else

my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
coming
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her–
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

rave on

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A Pretty Song
by Mary Oliver

From the complications of loving you
I think there is no end or return.
No answer, no coming out of it.
Which is the only way to love, isn’t it?

This isn’t a play ground, this is
earth, our heaven, for a while.
Therefore I have given precedence
to all my sudden, sullen, dark moods

that hold you in the center of my world.
And I say to my body: grow thinner still.
And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song.
And I say to my heart: rave on.