Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Predatory Behavior

Small Bodies | Mary Oliver

Here’s a small parable for today. What do you think it’s about? My comments follow.

Small Bodies

It is almost summer. In the pond
The pickerel leap,
and the delicate teal have brought forth
their many charming young,
and the turtle is ravenous.
It is hard sometimes, oh Lord,
to be faithful.
I am more boldly made
than the little ducks, paddling and laughing.
But not so bold
as the turtle
with his greasy mouth.
I know you know everything—
I rely on this.
Still, there are so many small bodies in the world,
for which I am afraid.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver
From her 2008 collection, Red Bird, p. 31
Published by Beacon Press 2008

Without top-dog animal predators, the natural world would cease to function efficiently. Without judicious pruning, trees wouldn’t develop strong, healthy branches or fruit.

But what about this ravenous, bold turtle with his greasy mouth? And what small bodies does Mary have in mind? Is this only about the pickerel, young teal and little ducks?

Mary Oliver opened her heart to nature – observing, describing and pondering what it might be telling or showing her. I imagine she discerns allegories or sees mirrors of what she experiences in human nature, including herself.

Given our current situation here in the USA, Mary might make connections between our pandemic world and the pond. We, too, have ‘so many small bodies’ vulnerable to predators and greasy-mouthed turtles. So many that, like Mary, I don’t know what to do or say except this:

I know you know everything—
I rely on this.

To be small and needy today is as dangerous as being a small duck in a ravenous turtle’s pond. Predatory behavior thrives at every level of governmental, public and private life. Especially when the pond is well-stocked with small bodies unable to fend for themselves, the number of ponds is drying up, and greasy-mouthed turtles grow ever larger and more ravenous.

Mary’s poem wasn’t meant to be a sermon. Still, it asks me to consider how I’m looking out (or not) for small bodies in our USA-style shrinking pond with its ravenous turtles.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 May 2020
Photo of baby Wood Ducks found at pinterest

yesterday’s ghosts

yesterday’s ghosts
stir in their graves

They want to shame and blame me. Turn me into the problem I am not. Make it my fault. Or the fault of my overactive emotions or hormones run wild.

And the tears. If I would just stop getting all emotional about it. It’s over and done with, Sister. Get used to it. This is the way of the world. If you don’t like the heat, don’t stand so close to the fire.

I’m proud to be a thriving survivor. Like other women and men, I’ve been sexually harassed, humiliated and punished physically, verbally and emotionally. Sadly, the patterns of my childhood and youth didn’t stop when I became an adult woman — a supposedly mature, thoughtful, educated, gifted, responsible, compassionate, dependable, reliable woman, true to her word.

My recent nightmare with its scoffer’s row of men intent on intimidating me brought it all back. As did my recent review of private journal entries from my years as a seminary professor and dean. To say nothing of public figures coming forward to talk about their experiences.

Where will this lead? Is it simply the media event of the year? I pray it is not.

My father set the stage early in my life. He was the boss. I was not. He wore his medals proudly: Male, Ordained, Father, The Boss.

Instead of learning to stand on my own two feet without apology, I was subjected to formation in unquestioning submission to men (unless they were obviously ‘bad’ men), submission to my teachers, submission to my employers, submission to the governing powers, and submission to God as a disobedient, rebellious, stubborn and angry little girl.

My father also formed me in the sick opposites of these submissions. These included lack of respect for my female body, female voice, thoughts, instincts, intuitions, emotions, and my identity as God’s beloved daughter child. They also included formation in going along to get along.

  • Smiling whether I wanted to or not
  • Being polite instead of truthful
  • Not hurting other people’s feelings
  • Not embarrassing myself or others in public
  • Doing as I was told, without asking questions or grimacing

Today I’m holding out for women and men who won’t allow their ghosts to rest in peace until justice is done. Not for us, but for all the children of this world, especially those without safe allies. Otherwise, this will indeed become a passing fad–for all but the powerful few.

I’m in this  for the long haul. How about you?


© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 December 2017
Image found at

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