I know a lot of fancy words.
I tear them from my heart and my tongue.
Then I pray…..
I lounge on the grass, that's all. So
simple. Then I lie back until I am
inside the cloud that is just above me
but very high, and shaped like a fish.
Or, perhaps not. Then I enter the place
of not-thinking, not-remembering, not-
wanting. When the blue jay cries out his
riddle, in his carping voice, I return.
But I go back, the threshold is always
near. Over and back, over and back. Then
I rise. Maybe I rub my face as though I
have been asleep. But I have not been
asleep. I have been, as I say, inside
the cloud, or, perhaps, the lily floating
on the water. Then I go back to town
to my own house, my own life, which has
now become brighter and simpler, some-where I have never been before….
Of course I have always known you
Are present in the clouds, and the
Black oak I especially adore, and the
Wings of birds. But you are present
Too in the body, listening to the body,
Teaching it to live, instead of all
That touching, with disembodied joy.
We do not do this easily….
Every summer the lilies rise
and open their white hands until they almost
cover the black waters of the pond. And I give
thanks but it does not seem like adequate thanks,
it doesn't seem
festive enough or constant enough, nor does the
name of the Lord or the words of thanksgiving come
into it often enough Everywhere I go I am
treated like royalty, which I am not. I thirst and
am given water. My eyes thirst and I am given
the white lilies on the black water. My heart
sings but the apparatus of singing doesn't convey
half what it feels and means. In spring there's hope,
in fall the exquisite, necessary diminishing, in
winter I am as sleepy as any beast in its
leafy cave, but in summer there is
everywhere the luminous sprawl of gifts,
the hospitality of the Lord and my
inadequate answers as I row my beautiful, temporary body
through this water-lily world.
Harold Bloom in American Religious Poems says that there is a particular powerful theme in American poetry, especially the poetry that relates to nature. In these poems there appears over and over again the idea of humans as the risen Christ. We each are divinity, and this is reflected back to us from trees, birds, mountains, lakes, and flowers around us. Harold Bloom only briefly mentions Mary Oliver, but he wrote his volume before Thirst came out. If he had seen this poem I believe that he would have said, “I told you so.” In these astonishing lands through which I have travelled aplenty, we dissolve the self and yet build up the self at the same time. We humans are glorious only because we are everything else (and perhaps more depending on your theology), including the offspring of God, or God herself. I don’t know if this is a shift for Mary in her older years and after loss of loved ones, or if pain, confusion, love, and beauty has peeled back a layer that was always there behind her previous poems. As I turn the page to go on to the next poem, it is as if I am helping Mary peel back the layers in these leaves of poems, praying that I might do the same until there is nothing left but everything.
Where do you recognize divinity?