my trembling hands

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Alligator Poem by Mary Oliver

I knelt down
at the edge of the water,
and if the white birds standing
in the tops of the trees whistled any warning
I didn’t understand,
I drank up to the very moment it came
crashing toward me,
its tail flailing
like a bundle of swords,
slashing the grass,
and the inside of its cradle-shaped mouth
gaping,
and rimmed with teeth –
and that’s how I almost died
of foolishness
in beautiful Florida.
But I didn’t.
I leaped aside, and fell,
and it streamed past me, crushing everything in its path
as it swept down to the water
and threw itself in,
and, in the end,
this isn’t a poem about foolishness
but about how I rose from the ground
and saw the world as if for the second time,
the way it really is.
The water, that circle of shattered glass,
healed itself with a slow whisper
and lay back
with the back-lit light of polished steel,
and the birds, in the endless waterfalls of the trees,
shook open the snowy pleats of their wings, and drifted away,
while, for a keepsake, and to steady myself,
I reached out,
I picked the wild flowers from the grass around me –
blue stars
and blood-red trumpets
on long green stems –
for hours in my trembling hands they glittered
like fire.

perform admiration

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Sand Dabs, Five by Mary Oliver

What men build, in the name of security, is built of straw.

*

Does the grain of sand know it is a grain of sand?

*

My dog Ben — a mouth like a tabernacle.

*

You can have the other words-chance, luck, coincidence,
serendipity. I’ll take grace. I don’t know what it is exactly, but
I’ll take it.

*

The pine cone has secrets it will never tell.

*

Myself, myself, myself, that darling hut!
How quick it will burn!

*

Death listens
to the hum and strike of my words.
His laughter spills.

*

Spring: there rises up from the earth such a blazing sweetness
it fills you, thank God, with disorder.

*

I am a performing artist; I perform admiration.
Come with me, I want my poems to say. And do the same.

on the beach

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Bone by Mary Oliver

1.

Understand, I am always trying to figure out
what the soul is,
and where hidden,
and what shape
and so, last week,
when I found on the beach
the ear bone
of a pilot whale that may have died
hundreds of years ago, I thought
maybe I was close
to discovering something
for the ear bone

2.

is the portion that lasts longest
in any of us, man or whale; shaped
like a squat spoon
with a pink scoop where
once, in the lively swimmer’s head,
it joined its two sisters
in the house of hearing,
it was only
two inches long
and thought: the soul
might be like this
so hard, so necessary

3.

yet almost nothing.
Beside me
the gray sea
was opening and shutting its wave-doors,
unfolding over and over
its time-ridiculing roar;
I looked but I couldn’t see anything
through its dark-knit glare;
yet don’t we all know, the golden sand
is there at the bottom,
though our eyes have never seen it,
nor can our hands ever catch it

4.

lest we would sift it down
into fractions, and facts
certainties
and what the soul is, also
I believe I will never quite know.
Though I play at the edges of knowing,
truly I know
our part is not knowing,
but looking, and touching, and loving,
which is the way I walked on,
softly,
through the pale-pink morning light.

be astonished

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My Work Is Loving The World 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.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

Which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

endless good fortune

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The Black Snake by Mary Oliver

When the black snake
flashed onto the morning road,
and the truck could not swerve–
death, that is how it happens.

Now he lies looped and useless
as an old bicycle tire.
I stop the car
and carry him into the bushes.

He is as cool and gleaming
as a braided whip, he is as beautiful and quiet
as a dead brother.
I leave him under the leaves

and drive on, thinking
about death: its suddenness,
its terrible weight,
its certain coming. Yet under

reason burns a brighter fire, which the bones
have always preferred.
It is the story of endless good fortune.
It says to oblivion: not me!

It is the light at the center of every cell.
It is what sent the snake coiling and flowing forward
happily all spring through the green leaves before
he came to the road.

idle and blessed

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Happy Summer Solstice

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The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

spin with joy

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When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention By Mary Oliver

“As long as we are able to
be extravagant we will be
hugely and damply
extravagant. Then we will drop
foil by foil to the ground. This
is our unalterable task, and we do it
joyfully.”

And they went on, “Listen,
the heart-shackles are not, as you think,
death, illness, pain,
unrequited hope, not loneliness, but

lassitude, rue, vainglory, fear, anxiety,
selfishness.”

Their fragrance all the while rising
from their blind bodies, making me
spin with joy.

into the garden

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The Gardens by Mary Oliver

Moon rose
full and without
compromise through the good
garden of leaves,
here and there
stars rode in flickering
slicks of water
and for certain
the burly trees
hunched toward each other,
their dark mantles
like the fur of animals
touching. It was
summer on earth
so the prayer
I whispered was to no god
but another creature like me.

Where are you?

The wind stood still.
Lightning flung
its intermittent flares;
in the orchard
something wandered
among the windfalls,
licking the skins,
nuzzling the tunnels,
the pockets of seeds.

Where are you? I called
and hurried out
over the silky sea
of the night, across
the good garden of branches,
leaves, water, down
into the garden
of fire.

This skin you wear so neatly,
in which you settle
so brightly on the summer grass, how
shall I know it?
You gleam as you lie back
breathing like something
taken from water,
a sea creature, except
for your two human legs
which tremble
and open
into the dark country
I keep dreaming of. How
shall I touch you
unless it is
everywhere?
I begin
here and there,
finding you,
the heart within you,
and the animal,
and the voice.
I ask
over and over
for your whereabouts,
trekking wherever you take me,
the boughs of your body
leading deeper into the trees,
over the white fields,
the rivers of bone,
the shouting,
the answering, the rousing
great run toward the interior,
the unseen, the unknowable
center.

what about virtue

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Beans by Mary Oliver

They’re not like peaches or squash.
Plumpness isn’t for them.They like
being lean, as if for the narrow
path. The beans themselves sit qui-
etly inside their green pods. In-
stinctively one picks with care,
never tearing down the fine vine,
never not noticing their crisp bod-
ies, or feeling their willingness for
the pot, for the fire.

I have thought sometimes that
something―I can’t name it―
watches as I walk the rows, accept-
ing the gift of their lives to assist
mine.

I know what you think: this is fool-
ishness. They’re only vegetables.
Even the blossoms with which they
begin are small and pale, hardly sig-
nificant. Our hands, or minds, our
feet hold more intelligence. With
this I have no quarrel.

But, what about virtue?

deeper acquaintance

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The Sunflowers by Mary Oliver

Come with me
into the field of sunflowers.
Their faces are burnished disks,
their dry spines
creak like ship masts,
their green leaves,
so heavy and many,
fill all day with the sticky
sugars of the sun.
Come with me
to visit the sunflowers,
they are shy
but want to be friends;
they have wonderful stories
of when they were young –
the important weather,
the wandering crows.
Don’t be afraid
to ask them questions!
Their bright faces,
which follow the sun,
will listen, and all
those rows of seeds –
each one a new life!
hope for a deeper acquaintance;
each of them, though it stands
in a crowd of many,
like a separate universe,
is lonely, the long work
of turning their lives
into a celebration
is not easy. Come

and let us talk with those modest faces,
the simple garments of leaves,
the coarse roots in the earth
so uprightly burning.