Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Thirst

Messenger | Mary Oliver

This is the opening poem in Mary Oliver’s slim volume, Thirst. The volume is dedicated to her partner of many years, Molly Malone Cook, who died in 2005. My comments follow.

Messenger

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

Death stares us in the face daily. Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, raging forest fires, climate change and more bring it home.

No matter which political and/or religious side you’re on, we live in the world of 2020, not 2019. As I see it, we’re in a national and international valley of death. Some self-inflicted; some visited on us unawares.

Given these realities, what are we now to do?

In the midst of her valley of death, Mary Oliver seeks to clarify her work. Yes, she grieves the loss of her partner. In addition, she wants to know why she’s still alive, and what the meaning of her life is now.

Though I still have my partner, this is my question as well. What am I called to do and say right now, in this world of Covid-19 et al? Not in a drab and dreary way, but in a way that conveys my love for this world, focuses on what matters, remains open to the miracle of joy, overflows with gratitude, and proclaims “how it is that we live forever.” Not for ourselves alone, but for this world starving for love and for life.

We matter, singly and together. No matter how defeated or discouraged we feel.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 October 2020
Photo found at pinterest.com

Why Mary Oliver’s words matter

A few years ago a friend introduced me to Mary Oliver via one of her books of poetry, Thirst. Spare on words and extravagantly beautiful, her forty-three poems grabbed my heart and my imagination. The collection focuses on her grief after the death of her longtime partner, and her struggle to find words that capture the reality of her faith.

Mary Oliver challenges me in ways similar to Emily Dickinson, with one exception. Oliver’s poetry, also heavy with meaning, is remarkably and painfully direct. In each poem she invites me to enlarge the way I see, experience and respond to what seems everyday and ordinary.

Since her death on January 17, scores of visitors have visited this site looking for posts about Mary Oliver. At the top of the list: It doesn’t have to be the blue iris, a poem about prayer.

In the last week I’ve read and listened to multiple tributes to Mary Oliver. Her poetry is stunning; her challenge to us as human beings is direct and piercing: Wake up, Observe, Report. Not simply about nature, but about this world and its creatures as part of God’s great poem. A reality we ignore to our great loss.

Here’s one of Mary Oliver’s shorter poems. I love the way it makes simple what isn’t always easy.

Musical Notation: 2

Everything is His.
The door, the door jamb.
The wood stacked near the door.
The leaves blown upon the path
that leads to the door.
The trees that are dropping their leaves
the wind that is tripping them this way and that way,
the clouds that are high above them,
the stars that are sleeping now beyond the clouds

and, simply said, all the rest.

When I open the door I am so sure so sure
all this will be there, and it is.
I look around.
I fill my arms with the firewood.
I turn and enter His house, and close His door.

Mary Oliver, from poems in Thirst, p. 38; published by Beacon Press (2006)

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 January 2019

Thirst

Thirst
consumes me
parches my soul
throttles energy
makes me wary
cautious
lest I lose
one precious drop

Hoarding
sets in like drought
grows and multiplies
invades every
vein in my body
sucks me dry
prepares me
for death

Gasping
I refuse
to relinquish
what is mine
by right and law
wrung from
this earth by
my own hands

Heedless
I rush headlong
into a desert
of my making

No one
looks my way
or offers
one precious drop

***

Here’s another option from the prophet Isaiah:

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.

Why spend money on what is not bread,
your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me,
and eat what is good,

and you will delight in the richest of fare.

Isaiah 55:1-2 (New International Version)

I’ve been thinking about the way we seem to be turning inward. Supposedly protecting ourselves and our own, lest something terrible happens and we’re left high, dry and more vulnerable than ever. But I wonder.

Ironically, the best way to ensure disaster may well be to shut down our hearts and hang onto our assets, however meager they may be.

This isn’t about political parties, racial identity or religious beliefs. It’s about our common humanity. The capacity in each of us that’s capable of welcoming and providing hospitality to strangers. And the capacity to receive this from others.

It isn’t easy. We’re never promised success, safety or survival for ourselves or others. We are, however, promised the satisfaction of receiving and passing on small bits of grace and gratitude. Some of those tiny drought-proof seeds that grow only when they’re given away.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 August 2017
Image found at feelgrafix.com

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