learning about love from Mary Oliver

from 'John Chapman' in American Primitive:
you do
what you can if you can; whatever

the secret
, and the pain,

there's a decision: to die,
or to live, to go on
caring about something.

from 'Rhapsody' in The Leaf and a Cloud: A Poem:
Because there is no substitute for vigorous and exact
Description, I would like to say how
Your eyes, at twilight, reflect, at the same
Time, the beauty of the world, and its crimes.
If you are in the garden, I will dress myself in leaves.
If you are in the sea I will slide into that
smooth blue nest, I will talk fish, I will adore salt.

But if you are sad, I will not dress myself in desolation.
I will present myself with all the laughters I can muster.
And if you are angry I will come, calm and steady, with
some small and easy story.

Promises, promises, promises! The tongue jabbers, the heart
strives, falls, strives again. The world is perfect.
Love, however, is an opera, a history, a long walk, that
includes falling and rising, falling and rising, while
the heart stays as sweet as a peach, as radiant and
grateful as the deep-leaved hills.

'Starfish' from New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1:
In the sea rocks,
in the stone packets
under the tide's lip,
in the water dense as blindness

they slid
like sponges,
like too many thumbs.
I knew this, and what I wanted

was to draw my hands back
from the water--what I wanted
was to be willing
to be afraid.

But I stayed there,
I crouched on the stone wall
while the sea poured its harsh song
through the sluices,

while I waited for the gritty lightning
of their touch, while I stared
down through the tide's leaving
where sometimes I could see them--

their stubborn flesh
lounging on my knuckles.
What good does it do
to lie all day in the sun

loving what is easy?

It never grows easy,
but at least I grew peaceful:
all summer

my fear diminished
as they bloomed through the water
like flowers, like flecks
of an uncertain dream,

while I lay on the rocks, reaching
into the darkness, learning
little by little to love
our only world.

'West Wind' in West Wind:
You are young. So you know everything. You leap
into the boat and begin rowing. But, listen to me. Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without
any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me. Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and your heart, and heart's little intelligence, and listen to me. There is life without love. It is not worth a bent penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile away and still out of sight, the churn of the water as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the sharp rocks—when you hear that unmistakable pounding--when you feel the mist on your mouth and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls plunging and steaming--then row, row for your life toward it.
But how did you come burning down like a
wild needle, knowing
just where my heart was?
There are night birds, in the garden below us, singing.
Oh, listen!
For a moment I thought it was
our own bodies.
And what did you think love would be like? A summer day? The brambles in their places, and the long stretches of mud? Flowers in every field, in every garden, with their soft beaks and their pastel shoulders? On one street after an-other, the litter ticks in the gutter. In one room after another, the lovers meet, quarrel, sicken, break apart, cry out. One or two leap from windows. Most simply lean, exhausted, their thin arms on the sill. They have done all that they could. The golden eagle, that lives not far from here, has perhaps a thousand tiny feathers flowing from the back of its head, each one shaped like an infinitely small but perfect spear.
Dark is as dark does.
Something with the smallest wings shakes itself from under a thumb of bark.

The ocean breathes in its silver jacket.
Outside, hanging on the trellis, in the moonlight,
the flowers are opening, each one
as fancy in its unfurl as a difficult thought.
So we cross the dark together.
Outside: the almost liquid beauty of the flowers.
Now the linnets awake.
Now the pearls of their voices are falling
in the morning light.
Did we sleep long? Is it this life still, or
is it the next life, already? Are we gone, then?
Are we there?
How will we ever know?
It is midnight, or almost.
Out in the world the wind stretches
bundles back into itself like a hundred
bolts of lace then stretches again

flows itself over the windowsill and into the room

it scatters the papers from the desk
it is in love with disorganization

now the manuscript is on the floor, and reshuffled
now the chapters have married each other
now the alphabet is lost
now the white curtains are tossing wing on wing
now the body of the wind snaps

it sniffs the closet it touches into the pockets of the coats
it touches the shells upon the shelves
it touches the tops of the books
it slides along the walls

now the lamplight wavers
as the body of the wind swings over the light
outside a million stars are burning
now the ocean calls to the wind

now the wind like water slips under the sash
into the yard the garden the long black sky

in my room after such disturbance I sit, smiling.
I pick up a pencil, I put it down, I pick it up again.
I am thinking of you.
I am always thinking of you.

'In the Blackwater Woods' from American Primitive:
Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillows

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

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