Big Penny Positive #8

“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” — Mary Oliver

The Lilies Break Open Over the Dark Water

handmade greeting card, collage art


that mud-hive, that gas-sponge,

that reeking

leaf-yard, that rippling


dream-bowl, the leeches’

flecked and swirling

broth of life, as rich

as Babylon,


the fists crack

open and the wands

of the lilies

quicken, they rise


like pale poles

with their wrapped beaks of lace;

one day

they tear the surface,


the next they break open

over the dark water.

And there you are

on the shore,


fitful and thoughtful, trying

to attach them to an idea—

some news of your own life,

But the lilies


are slippery and wild—they are

devoid of meaning, they are

simply doing,

from the deepest


spurs of their being,

what they are impelled to do

every summer.

And so, dear sorrow, are you.

—Mary Oliver


handmade greeting card, collage art


I have been thinking

about living

like the lilies

that blow in the fields.


They rise and fall

in the wedge of the wind,

and have no shelter

from the tongues of the cattle,


and have no closets or cupboards,

and have no legs.

Still I would like to be

as wonderful


as that old idea.

But if I were a lily

I think I would wait all day

for the green face


of the hummingbird

to touch me.

What I mean is,

could I forget myself


even in those feathery fields?

When van Gogh

preached to the poor

of course he wanted to save someone—


most of all himself.

He wasn’t a lily,

and wandering through the bright fields

only gave him more ideas


it would take all his life to solve.

I think I will always be lonely

in this world, where the cattle

graze like a black and white river—


where the ravishing lilies

melt, without protest, on their tongues—

where the hummingbird, whenever there is a fuss,

just rises and floats away.

—Mary Oliver

The Oak Tree at the Entrance to Blackwater Pond

handmade greeting cards, collage art, tree

Every day

on my way to the pond

I pass the lightning-felled,


hundred-fingered, black oak

which, summers ago,

swam forward when the storm


laid one lean yellow wand against it, smoking it open

to its rosy heart.

It dropped down

in a veil of rain,

in a cloud of sap and fire,

and became what it has been ever since—

a black boat


in the tossing leaves of summer,


like the coffin of Osiris


upon the cloudy Nile.

But, listen, I’m tired of that brazen promise:

death and resurrection.

I’m tired of hearing how the nitrogens will return

to the earth again,

through the hinterland of patience—

how the mushrooms and the yeasts

will arrive in the wind—

how they’ll anchor the pearls of their bodies and begin

to gnaw through the darkness,

like wolves at bones—


what I loved, I mean, was that tree—

tree of the moment—tree of my own sad, mortal heart—

and I don’t want to sing anymore of the way


Osiris came home at last, on a clean

and powerful ship, over

the dangerous sea, as a tall

and beautiful stranger.

—Mary Oliver


handmade greeting card, collage art



a black bear

has just risen from sleep

and is staring


down the mountain.

All night

in the brisk and shallow restlessness

of early spring


I think of her,

her four black fists

flicking the gravel,

her tongue


like a red fire

touching the grass,

the cold water.

There is only one question:


how to love this world.

I think of her


like a black and leafy ledge


to sharpen her claws against

the silence

of the trees.

Whatever else


my life is

with its poems

and its music

and its glass cities,


it is also this dazzling darkness


down the mountain,

breathing and tasting;


all day I think of her—

her white teeth,

her wordlessness,

her perfect love.


—Mary Oliver

Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard

handmade greeting card, collage art

His beak could open a bottle,

and his eyes—when he lifts their soft lids—

go on reading something

just beyond your shoulder—

Blake, maybe,

or the Book of Revelation.


Never mind that he eats only

the black-smocked crickets,

and dragonflies if they happen

to be out late over the ponds, and of course

the occasional festal mouse.

Never mind that he is only a memo

from the offices of fear—


it’s not size but surge that tells us

when we’re in touch with something real,

and when I hear him in the orchard


down the little aluminum

ladder of his scream—

when I see his wings open, like two black ferns,


a flurry of palpitations

as cold as sleet

rackets across the marshlands

of my heart,

like a wild spring day.


Somewhere in the universe,

in the gallery of important things,

the babyish owl, ruffled and rakish,

sits on its pedestal.

Dear, dark dapple of plush!

A message, reads the label,

from that mysterious conglomerate:

Oblivion and Co.

The hooked head stares

from its blouse of dark, feather lace.

It could be a valentine.

—Mary Oliver


handmade greeting card, collage art

ο ο ο

It is January, and there are crows

like black flowers on the snow.

While I watch, they rise and float toward the frozen pond,

they have seen

some streak of death on the dark ice.

They gather around it and consume everything, the strings

and the red music of that nameless body.  Then they shout, 

one hungry, blunt voice echoing another.

It begins to rain.

Later, it becomes February,

and even later, spring

returns, a chorus of thousands.

They bow, and begin their important music.

I recognize the oriole.

I recognize the thrush, and the mockingbird.

I recognize the business of summer, which is to forge ahead,


So I dip my fingers among the green stems, delicately.

I lounge at the edge of the leafing pond, delicately.

I scarcely remember the crust of the snow.

I scarcely remember the icy dawns and the sun like a lamp

without a fuse.

I don’t remember the fury of loneliness.

I never felt the wind’s drift.

I never heard of the struggle between anything and nothing.

I never saw the flapping, blood-gulping crows.

—Mary Oliver


vincent van gogh

No doubt in Holland,

when van Gogh was a boy,

there were swans drifting

over the green sea

of the meadows, and no doubt

on some warm afternoon

he lay down and watched them,

and almost thought:  this is everything.

What drove him

to get up and look further

is what saves this world,

even as it breaks

the hearts of men.

In the mines where he preached, 

where he studied tenderness,

there were only men, all of them

streaked with dust.

For years he would reach

toward the darkness.

But no doubt, like all of us,

he finally remembered

everything, including the white birds,

weightless and unaccountable,

floating around the towns

of grit and hopelessness—

and this is what would finish him:

not the gloom, which was only terrible,

but those last yellow fields, where clearly

nothing in the world mattered, or ever would,

but the insensible light.

—Mary Oliver

The Buddha’s Last Instruction

handmade greeting card, collage art

º º º

“Make of yourself a light,”

said the Buddha, before he died.

I think of this every morning

as the east begins

to tear off its many clouds

of darkness, to send up the first

signal—a white fan

streaked with pink and violet,

even green.

An old man, he lay down

between two sala trees,

and he might have said anything,

knowing it was his final hour.

The light burns upward,

it thickens and settles over the fields.

Around him, the villagers gathered

and stretched forward to listen.

Even before the sun itself

hangs, disattached, in the blue air,

I am touched everywhere

by its ocean of yellow waves.

No doubt he thought of everything

that had happened in his difficult life.

And then I feel the sun itself

as it blazes over the hills,

like a million flowers on fire—

clearly I’m not needed,

yet I feel myself turning

into something of inexplicable value.

Slowly, beneath the branches,

he raised his head.

He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

—Mary Oliver

Foxes in Winter

handmade greeting cards, collage art

¤ ¤ ¤

Every night in the moonlight the foxes come down the hill

to gnaw on the bones of birds.  I never said

nature wasn’t cruel.  Once, in a city as hot as these woods

are cold, I met a boy with a broken face.  To stay

alive, he was a beggar.  Also, in the night, a thief.

And there are birds in his country that look like rainbows—

if he could have caught them, he would have

torn off their feathers and put their bodies into

his own.  The foxes are hungry, who could blame them

for what they do?  I never said

we weren’t sunk in glittering nature, until we are able

to become something else.  As for the boy, it’s simple.

He had nothing, not even a bird.  All night the pines

are so cold their branches crack.  All night the snow falls

softly down.  Then it shines like a field

of white flowers.  Then it tightens.

—Mary Oliver

Blog Stats

  • 158,643 hits
%d bloggers like this: