A Letter to Mary Oliver, with thanks.
You have passed on, but your words have not. I think there is an extra chamber in my heart where they fully inhabit, pumping wonder and beauty into the places in my being which need them the most. I know your words circle in others peoples hearts too, lining them with awe, and grace, and now an infinite beat of gratitude. We have much to thank you for.
You let your words rest on blank pages, arranged in configurations of strange symbols which we place together as consonants, then poems. But your configurations have a special quality, something rooted and ethereal at once. More constellation than star, more forest than seed. We could say your poems carry the touch of mystery, but I think you’d call it love instead; that your pen was a point of capture and your words a place of gathering, so we can see it more clearly, in the grass and the way light falls daily, or the way a cricket carries its song. You reminded us that it is all love really, this earthly presence of being, this wild and precious life.
Little did you know it Mary, but for more than half my life, since I first read your poems, you have come everywhere with me. I’ve packed you in my backpack and we have travelled the world. I’ve taken you on bus journeys, planes journeys, ferry rides and long undulating walks. We’ve stayed up late at night with a torch under the bedcovers. Do you remember the time when we on a beach in Greece reading poems to the sea? Or the time when my little dog sat beside me and I read your dog poems aloud to her? Or the multiple nights on my yoga mat, when you’d tuck into position by my side, and tell me, over and over, to trust in the way of things. You’d let me cry tears if needed, whether of joy or sadness, and you’d always wipe them with beauty. You have been my companion in dark corners and tunnels which I thought would never end. Your words, the best of friends. Your poems, a lighthouse.
‘You do not have to be good’, you whispered to me in one particular dark patch’, ‘you only have to let the soft animal of your body loves what it loves’. That became my mantra, recalled with regularity and devotion.
You have given instructions for living a life. ‘Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it’. In this, I can say, I am trying.
And you have reminded me that the ‘boxes of darkness can also be gifts’. I open them differently now.
You have said the world offers itself to our imaginations, no matter who we are, no matter how lonely. So you have been training me to seek the imaginative possibility. Belong to this world, you suggested, and give yourself to it, ‘married to amazement’. In this I can say I am wed, only my vows need to be renewed daily. Your poems take me there.
You have spared me the worry of haste and urgency. ‘Don’t worry’, you say, ‘things take the time they take’.
And then you offered me one question which thread so close that is has changed everything. ‘So, tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’. I wake up with those words on my lips and each day I long to live into them. It it the best kind of quest.
Yours was wild, yours was precious, and you have made mine all richer through the gifting of your gift. I hope to thank you in the pay it forward kind of way, in a way I think you’d like, with the simple gestures of love, and a heart seeking always to speak to the wonder of it all.
Rest in peace dear Mary Oliver. May your words work their infinite wonder in the hearts of many more,
With love and eternal gratitude.