“Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches”

beautiful girl lying down of grass

“Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches of other lives-
tried to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey,
hanging from the branches of the young locust trees,
in early morning, feel like?

Do you think this world was only an entertainment for you?

Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides
with perfect courtesy, to let you in!
Never to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass!
Never to leap to the air as you open your wings over
the dark acorn of your heart!

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
that something is missing from your life!

Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?
Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot
in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself continually?
Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed
with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?

Well, there is time left –
fields everywhere invite you into them.
And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away
from wherever you are, to look for your soul?
Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!

To put one’s foot into the door of the grass,
which is the mystery, which is death as well as life,
and not be afraid!
To set one’s foot in the door of death,
and be overcome with amazement!

To sit down in front of the weeds, and imagine
god the ten-fingered, sailing out of his house of straw,
nodding this way and that way, to the flowers of the present hour,
to the song falling out of the mockingbird’s pink mouth,
to the tippets of the honeysuckle, that have opened in the night,
To sit down, like a weed among weeds, and rustle in the wind!

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

While the soul, after all, is only a window,
and the opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little sleep.

Only last week I went out among the thorns and said
to the wild roses: deny me not, but suffer my devotion.
Then, all afternoon, I sat among them.
Maybe I even heard a curl or tow of music, damp and rouge red,
hurrying from their stubby buds, from their delicate watery bodies.

For how long will you continue to listen to those dark shouters,
caution and prudence?
Fall in! Fall in!

A woman standing in the weeds.
A small boat flounders in the deep waves,
and what’s coming next is coming with its own heave and grace.

Meanwhile, once in a while, I have chanced, among the quick things,
upon the immutable.
What more could one ask?

And I would touch the faces of the daises,
and I would bow down to think about it.

That was then, which hasn’t ended yet.

Now the sun begins to swing down. Under the peach-light,
I cross the fields and the dunes, I follow the ocean’s edge.
I climb, I backtrack. I float.
I ramble my way home.”

~ Mary Oliver,
”West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems”


Life and Death

There’s a great tree in my backyard, it’s been standing a long time, likely before my house was built.  The tree is filled with leaves, awash with green against a blue sky.  There are 2 large holes in this tree, deep holes, and a few weekends ago, I cleaned them out and drilled a small hole through the bottom so that collected rain water could drain away.  When I reached my gloved hands inside (the holes are about head height) I was taken aback by my discovery.  The rotted tree smelled of earth.  The wood inside had composted nearly to dirt, and each handful hosted a number of fattened earth worms.  My backyard tree is slowly dying.

When I moved into this house, the people who lived here before me stated that anything I planted in the ground would grow.  As spring has lazily emerged I see that their assertion was true, everything here is alive and is growing profusely, more so than I’ve ever seen before.   The soil encompassing this house is fertile and rich, it’s quite magical, all of the varied species that flourish – I have a flower stem coming out of a lily plant that is higher than my outstretched arms and just as thick as one of them.  In considering the magic of all things green and growing here, it struck me that this grand tree is decomposing from the ground up.  I had this imagining of  her many enormous roots turning from a resource of food for the tree, into a resource of rich food for the soil and ultimately all of the other species that are planted here.  As she surrenders her own life, she deeply nourishes the lives around her, lily and willow, geranium, lavender, bamboo,…all abundant for this mighty tree’s energy and surrender.

I think of my Grandmama, Mary.  She sipped her last breath in August at 94 years old.  I had her for 35 years of my own life.  Today I am 36.  Someone said to me in jest, “you know from this point on, we’re really all just dying”, and it is true that  I am gradually parting with unwrinkled skin, a scratch that heals in a day, eyes that see clearly, joints that don’t creak.  I am, along with the rest of us, slowly progressing toward death.  Today, it’s not a morbid thought, I feel fantastic, joyful and grateful, vibrant and full of life.  I saw my Grandmother in this way, deeply grateful, vibrant, and full of life.  While she was here, she poured herself into me, sharing her enthusiasm, her affection, her secrets, her wisdom.  I was romanced by our connection, each time I would leave her presence, I’d find myself feeling full, energetic, connected, peaceful.  She’s been gone 9 months now, and while I grieve her loss, I’ve also been very much aware of how close to her I’ve felt.  When my hands are in the earth or I’m walking about in nature, I feel her, as close as my own breath, as close as the hummingbird that whirls about my hair.  Of late, I’ve been feeling as though the absence of her body has increased the energetic connection I sense from her, within me, around me.  I feel a quiet strength and power residing within.

On this day of celebrating my own 36 years of life, I connect with gratitude for all I have expereienced, all that has shaped me, and all that I have been given.  I connect with the unity of life and death, that for as much as they are inseperable, they also give themselves, one to the other.  My tree is living and dying all at once, but it is through her dying that she imparts nourishment to all of the life around her.  And so it was (and is) with Grandmama.  And in this culture where the unknown of death is feared and rarely dealt with (until we’ve nearly arrived), I celebrate death this day, I celebrate it as life, as an outpouring of one life for the nourishment of many lives.  I celebrate, believing that the secret of death lies in the heart of life – just as much as the secret of life lies in the heart of death.  I am nourished.  I am full. Om shanti shanti shanti.