American Spark


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Poet: Mary Oliver

Blue horses book.jpg

Last year I was enjoying some free time with a friend and her daughter in a tiny shop of mostly dresses and home decor fineries. Essentially, luxury goods that make you escape for a while. On a table on display, just as one would display a Wedgwood 5-piece place setting, were a stack of books. Poetry books. It’s a lovely discovery to be in a shop that believes a good book to be an artículo de lujo. If you enjoy poetry at all, you know Pulitzer winner Mary Oliver. I do and I do. I bought her book on the spot. I treasure these poems even more because they’re in hardback, a smooth matte finish that’s luscious. It’s interesting how a hardback book can be infinitely more pleasurable than paperback, the way a sip of soda tastes better from a glass filled with ice than from a can.

Here’s a peek at Mary Oliver’s 2014 Blue Horses:

If I Wanted a Boat

I would want a boat, if I wanted a
boat, that bounded hard on the waves, 
that didn't know starboard from port
and wouldn't learn, that welcomed
dolphins and headed straight for the
whales, that, when rocks were close, 
would slide in for a touch or two, 
that wouldn't keep land in sight and
went fast, that leaped into the spray. 
What kind of life is it always to plan
and do, to promise and finish, to wish
for the near and the safe? Yes, by the
heavens, if I wanted a boat I would want
a boat I couldn't steer. 

The Wasp

Why the wasp was on my bed I didn't 
know. Why I was in bed I did know. Why 
there wasn't room for both of us I 
didn't know. I watched it idly. Idleness 
can be a form of dying, I did know that. 

The wasp didn't communicate how it felt. 
It did look confused on the white sheet, 
as though it had landed somewhere in the 
Arctic. And it did flick its wings when 
I raised my legs, causing an upheaval. 

I didn't want to be lying there. I didn't 
want to be going in that direction. And 
so I say it was a gift when it rose into 
the air and, as wasps do, expressed itself 
in a sudden and well-aimed motion.

Almost delicious was its deep, inflexible sting.

I was saddened to learn Mary Oliver passed away this year. Learning of this, it seems appropriate to share her epochal poem, The Summer Day.

The Summer Day

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?

May-Lily Lee