"Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it." — Mary Oliver, November 10, 2011 at Herbst Theater in San Francisco as part of the City Arts & Lecture Series.
Our country is in mourning because Mary Oliver died last thursday. Here is illuminator Astara's tribute to our "bride of amazement.”
From Mary Oliver's poem "When Death Comes"
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
I have heard you left the planet and our dimension today. I never got to tell you this. I fantasize still about being your poetry student. The closest I got was seeing you in person eight years ago, as a tiny dot on the small stage below me, perched with my notebook and a pen in the topmost balcony of the Herbst Theater in San Francisco. I closed my eyes to hear you read your poetry out loud. Your voice was as modest and forthright as your poems. Somehow, in the dark of the balcony I was able to scribble my own poem down that blazed through me as you spoke. I share it with you here:
On Listening to Mary Oliver for the First Time
Adjectives surrender themselves to the present,
laying each carefully chosen word at my feet.
All description retires itself.
My eyes close welcoming the space, the emptiness
between her breath and voice.
Words rise from my feet over the balcony,
building arching leading me inside each phrase
Now I am at that lake, on that path,
standing looking at the flower, that bird, that fox.
The theater dissolves.
The world has come alive.
I was always your poetry student. Whether that delicate perfect moment in San Francisco where I got to hear and see you, or the multitude of times at home or in the world when I came across a poem of yours, I would harvest your words for the essence of honesty and reverence that I so crave in your writing.
Sixteen years ago I attended the Bread Loaf Writing Conference with a focus in poetry. I remember chuckling silently to myself when a young woman in my poetry workshop criticized your work as “too nature based.” Smiling because—when can anything be too connected to nature? In our culture, where being disconnected to our planet, disconnected to our plant and animal brothers and sisters, and disconnected to ourselves is the norm, you were and will continue to be essential medicine for all of us. Thank you for paying attention with an open mind and heart to the majesty of this world. Thank you for carrying your multitude of words as love offerings and reminders to all of us. Your poems are like bread crumbs inviting us back to our own lost wildness. We are forever transformed.
Learning from nature is a deep passion of mine as well. I must share with you, the “Country of Trees” is one of my favorite poems of yours, amidst so many favorites. Thank you for understanding the vertical networked intelligence of trees and their generosity. You knew that same intelligence is in you and all of us, if we are willing to access it. My plan is to live amidst and follow the wisdom of that society.
It turns out, I will always be your poetry student.
Enjoy your cosmic passage, I will wave at you tonight as you blink past us in the night sky.
With deep respect and expansive love,
There is no king in their country
and there is no queen
and there are no princes vying for power
Just as with us many children are born,
and some will live and some will die and the country will continue.
The weather will always be important.
And there will always be room for the weak, the violets
and the bloodroot.
When it is cold they will be given blankets of leaves.
When it is hot they will be given shade.
And not out of guilt, neither for a year end deduction
but maybe for the cheer of their colors, their
small flower faces.
They are not like us.
Some will perish to become houses or barns,
fences and bridges.
Others will endure past the counting of years.
And none will ever speak a single word of complaint,
as though language, after all,
did not work well enough, was only an early stage.
Neither do they ever have any questions to the Gods--
which one is the real one, and what is the plan.
As though they have been told everything already,
and are content.