National Poetry Month — When Death Comes by Mary Oliver

For my first day of "Poem Conversations" to celebrate National Poetry Month, I asked my mom if I could send her a poem, and she’d send me her thoughts. She agreed.

Truthfully, I don’t consider my mom a poetry dolt. One of my earliest memories comes from when I was around three years old and my mom was in college. She took me with her one day to English class. I remember nothing about the class, except that everyone but me was quiet and listening to this person at the front talk about a poem or a story, or something I didn’t understand. WORDS, it was words. It was almost like church. People were reverent. (Or maybe they were asleep, but I was three. It seemed like church.) (And Mom, if it wasn’t actually an English class, don’t tell me. I like thinking it was that early exposure that primed the pump for me to become a writer, and I’m pretty sure it was an English class even if you don’t remember it as such.)

Anyway, my mom loves to read fiction. She just doesn’t read that much poetry, unless it’s mine. (I’m willing to bet the money in my purse that if you asked her who her favorite poet is, she’d either say me or Carl Sandburg, and she probably hasn’t read Carl Sandburg in 20 years.)

I didn’t want to throw her a curve ball so I chose Mary Oliver, one of the more accessible contemporary poets. I couldn’t recall the exact poem I wanted to share but I knew there was something about coins in a purse. My mom used to periodically clean out her purse and whichever child guessed closest to the correct amount of change she found "won" the change. The poem, When Death Comes, has little to do with my memory of our guessing game, but as soon as I found it, I knew it was the one I wanted to share with Mom.

Here’s a bit for you:

When Death Comes
by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

You can must read the rest here.

My mom said her favorite part was:

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

Hmm. To tell you the truth, I was a little surprised that was her favorite part. My mom is a dreamer, just like me. I took her more for the type to hone in on these lines found later in the poem . . .

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom taking the world into my arms.

. . . you know, all that live life to the fullest, dream big dreams hubris she has passed on to my heart from hers.
But no, it was the part about the cottage of darkness that drew her in.

Full of surprises, that woman.

She explained herself:

I can remember as a child being fearful of death; afraid that I would die and leave Mama or afraid that she would die and leave me. However, now, with so many loved ones having already died, I am looking forward to "what it’s going to be like." The wonder of it excites me now.

I guess for someone who has embraced life to the fullest, it’s not that difficult to embrace the thought of death. That’s my mom.

I just got a second note from her (evidence the poem stuck with her and she’s still mulling over it. Hooray for poetry that sticks!)

She said:

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I also loved this part.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

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I hope (and pray) that when I am gone . . . I haven’t simply visited this world without leaving pieces of me behind.

Not to worry, Mom. There are pieces of you — who you are, who you’ve shaped us to be — that will outlive us both.


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Anticipation

I can hardly contain myself. Tomorrow begins National Poetry Month.

A whole Nation celebrating poetry. For thirty whole days.

Okay, let’s be realistic. Does the whole nation know about this? Or this? Have they even seen this?

Perhaps not. How many of us are actually reading poetry anyway? (Well, not how many of us here at LJ. Of course not. I’m preaching to the choir here.)

What is it about the word Poetry that strikes fear in the heart of the average American? Are we afraid we won’t understand it? Or maybe we’re afraid we’ll MISunderstand it and look like a fool?

Can we do something about that? Can we get the people who don’t think they like poetry to read it? Maybe. If we try. So for Poetry Month this year, I’m sending one poem a day to one carefully chosen person a day. My list isn’t complete but I’ll choose a person with whom I have a relationship and then choose a poem I think they would enjoy . . . even if they don’t think they’d enjoy poetry. For me this year, it’s all about engaging with people over poetry, and not with the usual suspects.

Call it my own personal poetry crusade. I’ll share some of the poems here. And I’ll let you know what the response is. 🙂


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Poetry Friday — Motion; An Original Poem

Oh how easy it is to get bogged down in the details of writing. Place a comma here, change a sentence structure there, a million times rewriting what you’ve already written instead of moving forward in the plot.

Life, sometimes, is just like that.

Motion

The sun has shifted this time of year.
It blinds me as I descend
the tree-lined hill on school days.
I leave the kids at drop-off and
watch them climb thirteen steps,
book bags bouncing against
blue-jeaned bottoms.
Someone has forgotten lunch money,
homework,
library book,
field trip permission slip,
of that I am sure.
A bus stops short and I slam on brakes, reaching
as if to hold back a child
from breaking through glass.
Life’s instinctive that way, mostly
reflex and religion.
I stop at the grocer’s,
wishing for carambola in the produce aisle.
I settle for plums.
At home,
I unpack iceberg and celery,
cans of condensed soup,
then leave a box of crackers right on the counter,
just for fun,
knowing later I’ll put them where they belong,
without a thought.
But if they’re still there come morning,
I’ll shift the route to school,
and take the road that climbs the tree-lined hill,
blinding sun at my back.
I’ll turn across traffic and worm my way into line.
Then I’ll make my way home to eat crackers
from the box I left on the counter.


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The Newest Member of the Family

I told you all the other week that my husband showed up at home with a dog, right? A stray from the university that had been hanging around the snack bar and begging food to make it in this world. Well, after a trip to the vet and a few tests, she’s been given a clean bill of health and has been with us for the last couple of weeks. She’s happy and healthy and just tail-wagging glad to have a family.

And she’s already made friends. 🙂


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Book Trailer

lurban shared it the other day. It’s been on my Facebook. Penguin Putnam favorited it on their You tube page. So it’s out there and if you haven’t seen it yet, I want you to. And if you’ve already seen it, I hope you’re not tired of it and are willing to indulge me, because I don’t think I’m going to get tired of it. Ever. 🙂

The book trailer for my soon-to-be-out-there picture book with Philomel, illustrated by Christopher Denise, edited by Patricia Gauch:


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