Some Mary Oliver Poems

I was introduced to the work of Mary Oliver through a snippet from her poem The Summer Day, which closes with the line: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Years later, when I was ruminating on a conversation about the power of asking Why Not?, I read the following:

Then a wren in the privet began to sing.

He was absolutely drenched in enthusiasm.

I don’t know why. And yet, why not.

Her tiny passage about a wren was the last nudge I needed to start slowly picking away at various collections by this Pulitzer Prize-winning poet.

Without any more preamble, here are some of my recent favourites – a few poems in their entirety and, from others, little snippets that made me stop, think and/or say: Wow.

From Freshen the Flowers, She Said:

a bounce upward at the end to let them take
their own choice of position, the wheels, the spurs,
the little sheds of the buds.  It took, to do this,
perhaps fifteen minutes,
Fifteen minutes of music
with nothing playing.

I loved – and instantly recognized what she meant – by that last line: fifteen minutes of music with nothing playing.

From Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End?

There are things you can’t reach. But
you can reach out to them, and all day long.

This World

I would like to write a poem about the world that has in it
nothing fancy.
But it seems impossible.
Whatever the subject, the morning sun
glimmers it.
The tulip feels the heat and flaps its petals open and becomes a star.
The ants bore into the peony bud and there is a dark
pinprick well of sweetness.
As for the stones on the beach, forget it.
Each one could be set in gold.
So I tried with my eyes shut, but of course the birds
were singing.
And the aspen trees were shaking the sweetest music
out of their leaves.
And that was followed by, guess what, a momentous and
beautiful silence
as comes to all of us, in little earfuls, if we’re not too
hurried to hear it.
As for spiders, how the dew hangs in their webs
even if they say nothing, or seem to say nothing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe they sing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe the stars sing too,
and the ants, and the peonies, and the warm stones,
so happy to be where they are, on the beach, instead of being
locked up in gold

My favourite, again, was her closing; imagery of stones on the beach, blissfully content in the absence of gold. Gold glitters, but it can also trap…

From Snow Geese:

I held my breath
as we do
to stop time
when something wonderful
has touched us
as with a match,
which is lit, and bright,
but does not hurt
in the common way,
but delightfully,
as if delight
were the most serious thing
you ever felt.

How does she manage to always finish her poems in such a magical way? I guess this is why she was a Pulitzer Prize winner…and I am not?!

The Wren from Carolina

Just now the wren from Carolina buzzed
through the neighbor’s hedge
a line of grace notes I couldn’t even write down
much less sing.

Now he lifts his chestnut colored throat
and delivers such a cantering praise—
for what?
For the early morning, the taste of the spider,

for his small cup of life
that he drinks from every day, knowing it will refill.
All things are inventions of holiness.
Some more rascally than others.

I’m on that list too,
though I don’t know exactly where.
But every morning, there’s my own cup of gladness,
and there’s that wren in the hedge, above me, with his

blazing song.

Other favourites:

  • From Luna: I live in the open mindedness of not knowing enough about anything.
  • From The Old Poets of China: Wherever I am, the world comes after me. If offers me its busyness. It does not believe that I do not want it.
  • From Mindful: Every day I see or I hear something that more or less kills me with delight; [I] instruct myself over and over in joy…of the ordinary, the common, the very drab.

Your turn. Are you a fan of Mary Oliver? If so, do you have a favourite poem?

Header photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash

Just Use the Bigger Bowl

My mother – a truly wonderful woman – has the frustrating habit of always trying to fit too much into a too-small bowl.

Salad is the biggest culprit. She has a stacked set of glass bowls she loves to use for salad (a side dish that shows up at most meals in her house). Invariably she will choose the smallest bowl and fill it so full the lettuce and other veggies are perfectly flush with the top rim of said bowl. This means when someone goes to toss the salad, a random assortment of ingredients will fall out onto the counter/table/floor. Or, it will take 10 minutes to toss a simple salad because you wind up mixing in each carrot shred individually to avoid making a huge mess.

I’m not sure why she does this? It takes the same amount of effort to wash a small bowl as it does a slightly larger bowl.

Alas, I do it too. I’ll try to gauge whether leftovers from supper will fit into the smallest version of a storage container. I have the fridge space – why risk it?

Just a few weeks ago I started to measure out a sauce in a 2-cup glass measuring cup. I added in the first few ingredients and then realized: the total volume of the recipe was more than the volume of the measuring cup – and that didn’t even factor in the need for buffer at the top to stir!

I swallowed my pride and poured everything into a 4-cup measuring cup. Predictably, it was a cinch to mix and pour the sauce…except now I had to wash both a 2- and a 4-cup measuring cup.

So, when in doubt, I’m telling myself: just use the bigger bowl.

Your turn. Do you ever try to use a too-small bowl/tote/box when it would be so much easier to opt for a container with buffer?

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My “Ordinary” Might Be Your “Extraordinary” (And Vice Versa)

About a month ago I mentioned offhand how we had spent a happy twenty minutes cracking open fresh chestnuts as a family. This wasn’t a particularly noteworthy activity – we have cracked open hundreds of chestnuts over the years – but I appreciated the diversity of colours and patterns in this particular batch.

A reader (Hi NGS!) commented on my nonchalance in describing this experience as she has never seen a chestnut in the wild!

Where we live, chestnuts are commonplace each fall. Even though they’re ubiquitous, we certainly do appreciate them, especially for their entertainment value. For years we would cart around hard, spiky chestnuts for the kids. There were several chestnut trees along our typical walking route and we’d grab a handful for whatever child was stroller- age to play with – and try to gently open – on the ride. I have pulled 100s of chestnuts out of strollers and preschool bookbags (visiting chestnut trees was often the focal point of fall adventures for their various preschool groups).

But NGS’s comment left me thinking about how easy it is to assume that a particular item or experience is the norm for others. I’m used to extreme seasonality – hot summers, beautiful fall foliage, and miserable ice/snow storms. I can’t imagine living in a place where those fluctuations weren’t part of the regular rhythm of the changing seasons. But, for many people, snow is never part of their reality. (Now that sounds appealing.)

While I appreciate the whimsical joy of opening up chestnut casings, it is a relatively “ordinary” activity. For someone else, it would be markedly novel; and somehow that realization is strangely thrilling.

Your turn. Do you have chestnuts where you live? Can you think of something that feels commonplace to you that would be exotic/unusual to someone else?

Header photo by Bas van den Eijkhof on Unsplash

What Makes You Feel Special?

It’s interesting what things can spark the feeling of being special. Weeks ago I was visiting a friend – of Soup and Sandwich fame – and when I went to use the washroom I stopped to appreciate the guest towel.

Every time I visit she leaves a perfectly folded towel on the edge of the sink for me. It has a little palm tree on it and seeing it there waiting for me to dry my hands always makes me smile. Imagine – someone took the time to put out a special towel just for my benefit! It’s a small gesture in the grand scheme of things, but it never fails to make me feel special.

Your turn. Can you think of a seemingly insignificant item/action that makes you feel special?

Header photo by Diana Light on Unsplash

Weighing Judgments

I can’t remember where I read the following quote (it might have been Brené Brown?) but it went something along the lines of: Care the most about the judgments of people who care the most about you.

(Side note: apparently both spellings are correct – judgements and judgments – though I’m still not sure which one looks “right”.)

This advice came at an opportune time; I have been ruminating over some unpleasant feedback I received relating to a tricky interpersonal situation. My tendency is to avoid conflict. At the end of the day I want to make – and keep – everyone happy with me. (Oh how desperately I want everyone to be happy with me!)

But here’s the thing, if someone is critical or hurtful or we simply don’t see eye to eye on a matter, I need to weigh my response in proportion to that person’s investment and overlap in my life.

I need to care the most about what the people closest to me say – what’s their feedback? Is the negative information I’m getting from a socially-distant person in line with what I’m hearing from those who love me, who have my best interests at heart, and whose input I most value?

In this case, the feedback didn’t align. While this doesn’t mean I should totally disregard the negative feedback (there are elements of truth to it, I admit), I need to weigh its impact on my decision-making accordingly.

Easier said than done, of course. But it’s likely wise, moving forward, to care the most about the judgments/feedback of people who care the most about me.


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I Can Drive A Car (And That’s Awesome)

The other day I was driving somewhere and suddenly thought: Isn’t it wonderful that I know how to drive a car! While this isn’t an ability I spend much time thinking about – and, family roadtrips aside, one of the perks of living in a small town is that we don’t have to do much driving – it is a very useful life skill.

I know several adults that don’t have their driver’s licenses. They rely on parents and/or spouses to drive them wherever they need to go. It seems to work for their individual situations, but I cannot imagine a life where I didn’t know how to drive.

So, today, I’m feeling very thankful that I have access to a vehicle and the cultural autonomy to drive freely!

Your turn. Have you ever thought about how useful it is to know how to drive (especially if you have easy access to a vehicle)? It really is a tremendous privilege!

Header photo by BÜNYAMİN GÖRÜNMEZ on Unsplash

Hide It and Move Along

Long-time readers may remember a few cameo appearances by a large hole in the drywall of our ensuite bathroom. (Lest you be envisioning a space resplendent with marble tile and gold-plated sinks, this room is very much rocking the 1970’s vibe of our 1970’s house. I’m holding out hope salmon-coloured tile will become fashionable again?)

For the most part, I don’t give two hoots about the aesthetics of this space. It’s highly functional and no one outside of our family uses it.

About three years ago, we had a water issue in the main bathroom. Yes, believe it or not, our water woes predate this blog. For those keeping track of such things, the score is hovering around Water, 18; Frosts, 0.

Our ensuite backs against the main bathroom and the shower in that room started leaking, resulting in a pool of water on the floor of the ensuite. At 9:30 pm at night. When we had overnight company.

Anyhoo. To access the shower in the main bathroom, we needed to cut a hole in the drywall of our little ensuite and that hole has stayed there ever since. After the emergency plumbing fix, we kept it open for a few months to allow for a final phase of repair. And then I started thinking how if we filled the hole and had another issue with the shower, we’d have to cut through the drywall again.

It wasn’t a big deal – and we’ve had plenty of other home updates to contend with lately – so we left it. Until a few weeks ago when I happened upon a painting that hadn’t found a new home after some artwork switcharoos.

You can likely guess where this is going. That extra painting covered up the hole perfectly. We didn’t have to pay for drywall repair and, if we ever have another issue with the shower, we’re seconds away from easy access.

Maybe, sometimes, situations in life deserve the same approach. While it often makes sense to fix or change things, other times we might be able to get away with slapping on a proverbial BandAid…or covering a giant eyesore with a nice painting.


Header photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

Why Not?

A few months ago I met up for coffee with a new acquaintance after two people told me: You need to meet Jane. So I met Jane and we chatted and it was lovely.

One anecdote, in particular, stood out. She told me about a friend of hers – an 80-year-old spitfire named Betty. Jane told me Betty’s answer to just about everything in life is Why not?

Want to go on a last-minute picnic? Why not?

Want to stay overnight at a hotel in a nearby city? Why not?

I like planning and routine and structure. A lot. And sometimes this has a tendency to get in the way of saying Yes to fun things.

I’ve thought about this story from Jane many times over the last month and then a few days ago happened upon this line in a Mary Oliver poem:

Then a wren in the privet began to sing.

He was absolutely drenched in enthusiasm.

I don’t know why. And yet, why not.

Mary Oliver

First of all, doesn’t being drenched in enthusiasm sound like an Anne of Green Gables state of mind?

And secondly – sadly – it is not my default (maybe I’m more of a Marilla?). But…why not?

Are you like me and tend toward a gut reaction of asking Why? Why chase a sunset, Why buy a hamster, Why offer someone a spontaneous invitation to dinner. I often count the cost before saying yes; I weigh pros and cons until some of the magic drains out of a situation.

Or, are you more likely to say (with enthusiasm!) – Why not?

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