On Working With The Creative Powers

This is a wonderful excerpt from the book Blue Pastures by Mary Oliver.  It is not about an artist’s discipline, that is an entirely different subject.  Rather, it’s about making oneself available at all times to one’s ideas and creative powers.

“I am absent-minded, reckless, heedless of social obligations.  It is as it must be.  The tire goes flat, the tooth falls out, there will be a hundred meals without mustard.  The poem gets written.  I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame.  Neither do I have guilt.  My responsibility is not to the ordinary, or the timely.  It does not include mustard, or teeth.  It does not extend to the lost button, or the beans in the pot.  My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive.  If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late.  Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.”  -Mary Oliver, Blue Pastures

 

 

Let Me Become

Let me become a master of listening, a student of surrender. May a strong and blossoming tree grow from the root of all my fears, a tree with the innate knowledge of how to bend with the wind.

I have much to learn from the ferryman who spends his life taking people across the river, but there is even more to learn from the river itself: how to swell with a flood, how to narrow with a drought, how to be tossed about in a wild current or move with a gentle one, how to be in a place of stillness, how to be at the bottom, the middle, the surface.

May I forget all names, all naming, in order to better contemplate the nameless. May my judgments be altogether cast aside. Let me not torment myself with endless desires. Let me learn how to be with them, so that I can say “Good Morning, My Brothers” and “Good Evening, My Sisters” with compassion, and a simple tenderness.

Let me love hugely and endlessly. Let me become.

Dream Catcher

A dream of bamboo groves and flickering candles.  A dream of sitting in meditation, of the alchemy of bees bringing about the reality of honey, of the heart lifting, of a tormented heart and eyes grown world-weary.

A dream of desire stirring below the navel, of a starry sky like a great milk-swelled breast, of crushing loneliness.  A dream of crouching down at the edge of water, of the sound of a bullroarer, of the coyote crossing my path and looking back, and he this night twitching as he dreams of the human crossing his path.

Dreams of the language of rivers, the lessons of mountains, the teachings of trees, the lumbering grace of knowledgeable bears, the voices of birds, the pulse of stillness, the rise and fall of tides, of breath, of prana.

And then the inevitable return.  For after the dream, I enter myself again.

 

Stacking Firewood

How unexpected of you, mother-in-law, to step outside onto the unwoven tapestry of fallen pine needles and ask me if I wanted you to make me a meatloaf sandwich.

Even as you recovered from walking pneumonia, even as you had yet to regain the energy to once again flour the counter and prepare the dough for your substantial bread, even as you had yet to carry out the annual reading of your Christmas book collection, or sound again the bright chime of your laugh.

I almost dropped my armload of cherry wood right then and there, as I carried it up stone steps from the top of the driveway to the little shed near the door where the axe is kept.

I was being given a second chance at having a mother, or at least the old long-lost feeling of it.  For the moment I was a boy again, walking over a field in cutoff jeans, chewing on a stalk of wheat.

You never know where, or when, your life might be touched by the phenomenon of another human heart.  You only know that you must fall onto your knees, raise your arms to the sky, and give thanks.

 

Of Time and Earthly Life

They are the children, and we their old, clutching mortal dreams like whirlwinds.

The rich ruddy mortar of body and soul paves the good sturdy road with its twists and bends.

 

Wheels carve lonesome tracks in the mud on our way to empty the urn.

Whistling past the graveyard, the next generation takes its turn.

 

At times the weight is too much to bear, when stones are all gathered together.

Yet each one alone, though still made of stone, can be shouldered in all kinds of weather.

 

Phosphorescent

Then a short time came when I could sit and think about what it was I needed to say. I sat at my desk a moment, but quickly I was called away again by my many duties. The rhythm of what I wanted to tell you stayed fresh in my mind, though. Even through sleeping and rising and working until it was time to sink my head into a pillow and dream again, even through all that, the pulse and the meat of what I wanted to say kept itself tethered to the bones of my mind.

It was nothing so luminous as the movement of a lion’s fine hair in the wind out on the savannah, nothing so phosphorescent as the treetops under the sun this very moment. It was just that I couldn’t stop thinking of all this as an ever-present arrival and continuous departure.

An infant speaks its first words, incredibly. A shark smells blood and moves toward it. We are young and we long to be cared for. We grow old and need long silences to restore our weathered pilings. Our foundation – the underneath of us – can never be the same again. Our windows that once held panes of glass or were boarded up, now become receptive, open, vulnerable, and that is good and will help bring us tranquility, so we might become ordinary, a rake in the garden, a book on the shelf. Let us wander all the rooms of the world-house in astonishment, savor sameness wherever we find it, welcome both flood and fair weather.

Knapsack

With Mother’s Day on one side and Memorial Day on the other, I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom.  I can’t believe she’s been gone for 25 years.

This poem first appeared in 2014, in The Wayfarer Journal of Contemplative Literature.

 

Knapsack

It’s a shame

I don’t have the patience to garden,

my mother being who she was,

doing what she did with sunflowers

and lemon balm.

And with me being who I am-

a fine cook responsible

for so many glowing embers,

so many bubbling broths.

The memory of her is light enough

to take with me wherever I go,

propelled by the sea breeze,

pushed along by intimate hands,

drawn down muddy roads

slashed with the watercolors

of coming summer,

medicine wheels whirling

in my stumbling eyes.