What Would Mary Oliver Do?
Mary Oliver, poet, died last week. She wrote about fish, birds, trees, owls, snakes, dogs in a kind of ecstatic way. She said,
“Ten times a day something happens to me – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell."
I have brought her poems into workshops since I started this work in 2008. Students, teachers, therapists, doctors, chronic pain suffers, meditators, and ordinary folks I know have her words on their walls, on tattoos, in their mouths.
The night after she died, I dreamt the landlord asked me to go up to the attic to plug the holes in the corners because there were mice. I went up and crawled around and saw that the holes were like small proscenium arches and the mice looked out like they were on stage and I was the audience. One even jumped out and dove into a boot like an acrobat. Or maybe they were looking out the doors to their houses and I was a traveller. We just stared at each other. It felt like a Mary Oliver moment.
But I had gone up to kill the mice! In the dream, I looked at the mice and they looked back. I did nothing. Then I thought: 'What would Mary Oliver do?' Would she have ignored the landlord? (And lord, what a dream to dream of a landlord!) Would she have lain down on the floor and fallen asleep? Would she have fed them? Would she have a side we never saw that boarded up the holes and went outside to smoke a cigarette? I don’t have an answer. But it made me laugh at my reverence. And any attempt to be transcendent when I’m just a basic human. So how to finish this story? Here’s a request — write a poem, call it “What would Mary Oliver do?” (Or better what would you do?) Be cheeky. Be real. And if you’d like, send it to me. If I get some juicy ones I’ll post them on my blog.
Wishing you a meeting with anything that offers some good sweet empathic ping and swell.