This Wednesday, April 19th, I have the honor of being the featured poet at a Poetry Parlay at Becky's Gallery in Anchorage. In the tradition of parlay, I chose Mary Oliver as the national poet whose work we will share, after I read a collection of my own poems.
I keep a Mary Oliver book, New and Selected Poems, by my bed and turn to her words whenever I find myself overthinking, replaying the dramas of my day, like a stuck record, as if I can rearrange the pieces in my mind through repetition.
Mary Oliver's microscopic lens on the natural world pulls me out of myself, while simultaneously moving me forward.
On whoa-is-me nights, I turn to this poem by Oliver:
The Poet With His Face in His Hands
You want to cry aloud for your
mistakes. But to tell the truth the world
doesn't need any more of that sound.
So if you're going to do it and can't
stop yourself, if your pretty mouth can't
hold it in, at least go by yourself across
the forty fields and the forty dark inclines
of rocks and water to the place where
the falls are flinging out their white sheets
like crazy, and there is a cave behind all that
jubilation and water-fun and you can
stand there, under it, and roar all you
want and nothing will be disturbed; you can
drip and despair all afternoon and still,
on a green branch, its wings just lightly touched
by the passing foil of water, the thrush,
puffing out its spotted breast, will sing
of the perfect, stone-hard beauty of everything.
Ah yes, "the stone-hard beauty of everything." I love Mary Oliver's words and look forward to hearing them read by a collection of Anchorage poets.
It's been interesting to sort through old and new files of my own poetry to decide what to read. I am still narrowing down my list, and may leave the final decision to the energy of the evening.
I just discovered an old poem of mine, written the summer Nick and I were secretly engaged but hadn't yet told our families. I wrote it during a weekend I visited Nick at Across the Bay Tent and Breakfast, near Seldovia, on Kasitsna Bay, where he worked as a sea kayak guide.
I remember sitting on a driftwood log on the rocky beach, with my pen and notebook, writing the following words:
The Natural Answer
I seek out oceans for answers.
Kasitsna Bay reaches her arm towards me
as moon pulls on earth’s covers.
Carrying seaweed, sea otters, sea stars,
her community’s rich and elusive.
A calm reflection of Spruce trees on the surface—
a jamboree of jellyfish, sharks and salmon below.
I know he loves my reflection.
I hope he loves the barnacles and bladderwrack who lie beneath.
A silver salmon jumps, breaks the looking glass, leaves widening circles in his wake.
Rocks surround me.
Rocks not regulated by alarms clocks, work weeks, birthdays or mirrors.
Timeless stones with stories from times I’ve never known.
I sit among my elders,
inexperienced next to their wisdom,
as I roll questions down the banks of my mind.
Is this the man I want to marry?
If yes, why is it so scary?
The barnacles cling to the rocks with a glue stronger than our scientists know.
Where the water meets the shore,
four crows eat muscles, snails, algae, and other beach delights.
A menu of timing and instinct,
coincidence and intuition.
Food, and love,
is where you find it.
Neither originate in wrappers and bows—
pre-packaged and delivered precisely on time.
Two bald eagle meet mid air,
grasp each other’s talons,
Thank goodness I found the right answer on that rocky beach almost sixteen years ago.
On we fly.