“Many Miles” by Mary Oliver

The feet of the heron,

under those bamboo stems,

hold the blue body,

the great beak

above the shallows

of the pond.

Who could guess

their patience?

Sometimes the toes

shake, like worms.

What fish could resist?

Or think of the cricket,

his green hooks,

climbing the blade of grass-

or think of camel feet

like ear muffs,

striding over the sand-

or think of your own

slapping along the highway,

a long life,

many miles.

To each of us comes

the body gift.

~Mary Oliver  (Many Miles)

 

Ephemeral

There are transitory moments

between seasons

when the world

comes out of its dressing room,

so stunning we lose our balance.

This moment of spiritual frenzy

does not wait to be discovered.

It comes and goes like a fire

of dry kindling,

and can be easy to miss

depending on one’s latitude.

 

Light spills through antique bottles

on a sunken windowsill,

stones and tree-roots

are less discreet than usual.

We feel our fingertips more closely,

an un-namable itch turns over inside us

and we want to know everything.

 

It is my job to point this out,

as I pointed out the copper-plated bar top

while you gobbled up your crustaceans,

swimming in a sauce of cream and brown roux,

sopping up the last remnants with grilled bread.

Planets may rotate and stars explode,

but earthbound as we are,

we listen for warblers.

 

We look ahead to coffee,

meals, holidays, weather.

 

Now and Again

Now the giraffe-like lily, turning its head to look northwest out the window in graciousness.

Now the blackberry – summer’s thimble – is incubating, its exquisite shape perhaps philosophized over at a celestial seminar where Father Sun and Mother Moon are merely attendees, two out of ten-thousand apprentice magicians. The fruit will not be on a bush beneath a tree in some faraway land, but here, now, staining my skin with its potent nectar, nestling among the tissues in my hands, softened by enough olive oil to last many lifetimes of a home cook.

Now the argumentative weather, now the three, four, five, six (no, seven!) hawks circling overhead, descending as if taking a circular stair. Now the clean birth of plants, not the messy one of animals. Now the mystic light whose source is unidentifiable, falling – like you – into the category of mysterious beauty.

Now and again, the contemplation of time and how it doesn’t exist, confused by the human mind with earthly cycles and a construct of our own devising. Now and again, the world seen as a poem.

Now the sound of the woodpecker seeking his morning meal, same as an egg frying. Now the grain of the wooden beams that are the rib cage of this house. Now us, the heart of the house. Now us, always at ease but still wrestling with everything. Now us, always going to new places without ever leaving the room. Now us, rocking gently on calm waters after the typhoon.

Now the ghost of the cat returning, following me from room to room, both of us always eating, sleeping, always doing the dance of sitting then standing then sitting again, always looking out the window, he in graciousness while I just try for it.

Now we return to the lily.

 

Witness

Again, I rose early and walked in shale gorges both smooth and jagged, by the wild water and evergreens.  I moved through the day like an athlete though my feet are broken, my throat so sick of onions.

Again, I sense the presence of a bear, and wonder if that is your animal spirit – vast, warm, strong.  Steam rises from a bowl of soup, the wind sways the treetops, and I long for company.

Again, I long to burn, a flare in a dark wet cavern.  I long to illuminate, pluck at the beaded web, reach for a single strand of – not transcendence – something earthly, simple.  Fill my rib cage ordinarily, break my back over the knee of witnessing the world.

 

Many Brothers

Connection erases age, weakens constraints, strengthens the bond of brotherhood.

I have crossed many valleys. I have loved many brothers.

Treetops creak and bang the way the screen door did in my own lost boyhood.

A wind has risen.  Dying leaves pray for us all as they descend, knowing how to honor their own wisdom.

A final stretch of weather will come, driving me into the finger-shaped lake, but today is bitter enough to invite stillness.  Today is northern tundra, Canadian coastline.

I puff and snort the way my grandfather once did, hiding an empty wine bottle among indifferent stones.

A Great Many Sparrows

You know there are a great many sparrows in a tree when your view of the tree itself has been almost completely obscured by the birds.

There are three ways to see these birds as they leave the tree in the morning, a single entity swirling up and away, as if together they made a rippling embroidered cloak worn by the night as it turns on its heels and marches away.

The first way is to be hardly aware of them at all, wrapped up in whatever it is you’re doing, or give them a sideways glance.

The second way is to see them, finding your attention momentarily captured by a spark of wonderment before your attention shifts away.

The third way is to be transformed by this thing you are witnessing, pulled by your transfixed gaze from your own body for a moment, a part of you taking to the air in the same way the birds do, following them with your close attention until the last black speck has vanished altogether.

 

Plants and Animals

If I were a plant, I might arrive at silence and stillness a little more gracefully. I might meditate with greater success.

If I were a plant, I think you would find that – impossible as it seems – I am both an annual and a perennial. Both evergreen and deciduous, succulent and garden flower, creeping fig and marigold.

A plant thinks “where is the light and heat, there is the light and heat, here are my roots, if water comes I shall drink what I need.”

An animal thinks “my belly is empty, my belly is full, this is my place, this is not my place, these are my children, I have no children.”

A human thinks “through many gateways I have passed, to come into this place at last.”