Like smelling coffee beans after having evaluated one too many colognes, I need a reset in my day after tackling several related things. For me that reset often comes in the form of picking up a book of poetry or verse. Why verse? I think it's because it requires me to slow down and focus in an entirely different way.
Making that switch from thinking one way to thinking another is like a mini-massage for my mind. My brain literally loves it. I come away from those pages renewed and ready to tackle the rest of my day.
Sometimes the poetry book I pick up is one that was given to me by my brother, Douglass Guy, a poet in his own right, several years ago.
The inscription from him read:
For the courage it takes to walk in your shoes, I offer the steps of another.
Since receiving the book it has always been sentimentally close at hand. Even thru a major round of downsizing precipitated by a relocation and the giving away of 3/4th of our home library, this book, remains with me.
The book is a collection of prose poetry by Mary Oliver who passed away today.
My first thought when I heard of Mary Oliver's passing, wasn't of her Pulitzer Prize or her volume of works or even of loss, a topic she had always dealt with with such honesty. It was of gratitude. For my brother and for her. Her themes were so often about gratitude. And I felt gratitude for the many times over the years, that her turn of phrase delighted me.
I have often been comforted by the way she marveled at the capacity we have to be humans and to be both humble and resilient in our humanity.
There are two excepts from her work that I have nearly memorized over the years. The first is from her poem “Messenger”. I included only a brief excerpt above but I’ll include a link to the entire poem at the end and invite you to take a few moments to breathe it in.
The second is from her poem, “Heavy”, which I always think of in three parts, though it is not really written that way. The second 'part' always resonates with me.
In my feeble attempt to help you to see it the way I see it, I’ve played with the font of the text a bit, but otherwise it is presented as she intended. I invite you, if a bit of a brain shift is needed in your day, to take a moment to breathe this in, perhaps twice, and see if it provides the mini-vacation for you, that it does for me.
Rest in Peace, Mary and thank you.
Heavy, By Mary Oliver
I thought I could not
Go any closer to grief
I went closer,
And I did not die.
Surely God had His hand in this,
As well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
And my laughter,
As the poet said,
Was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry
But how you carry it-
Books, bricks, grief-
It’s all in the way
You embrace it, balance it, carry it
When you cannot, and would not,
Put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?
Have you heard
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?
How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
to which there is no reply?
- Mary Oliver, 1935-2019
Let us all be brave and bring our talent to the world. When we do so we are all lifted.
By Mary Oliver
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
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoincing, since all the ingredients are there,
Which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a hear
And these body-clothes,
A mouth with which to give shouts of joy
To the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
Telling them all, over and over, how it is
That we live forever.