Mary Oliver

“Who made the world?”  In one of her famous poems, “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver asks this question.  Like a young child’s voice asking her parents “Who made the world?”  or “Where did I come from?”  or  “How did I get here?”  The young, if allowed, ask those existential questions.  And like this and many other poets, Oliver follows the thread of her thoughts and goes from the broad to the specific.

The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

****
I want to know
WHO MADE THE PINEAPPLE?
I mean this pineapple
the one delivered with my food order
this past week?
Who designed the layered, tufted top
the prickly, hexagon designs
outlined in yellow-green?
Who conscribed it to be juicy sweet
a treat

pineapple

Who made the pineapple?

***
Can you find something to be amazed by today?  Something that causes you to stop in your tracks and really see and admire it?  One definition of admire is “to regard with wonder, pleasure or approval.”  If I took the time, I’m guessing that throughout the day, there would be many things that I could admire.  I could dwell in amazement.

a quote from Thoreau

“I wish so to live ever as to derive my satisfactions and inspirations from the commonest events, every-day phenomena, so that my senses hourly perceive, my daily walk, the conversation of my neighbors, may inspire me, and I may dream of no heaven but that which lies about me.”  
Henry David Thoreau

For me, this quote symbolizes the independent spirit while recognizing the interdependency we have with our neighbors and the natural world. That said, the larger world is on our doorstep…through the ever-present media and its variable perspectives, we are bombarded with world events, political unrest, glaring social inequities, climate change, etc. It seems that while it is wise to be present with the commonest events and daily phenomena, we cannot bury our heads in wonder to the point where we ignore the outer chaos. What a helpless feeling though when we look at the state of human affairs.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of sitting outdoors with three wise women poets. We were celebrating a birthday of one of the women, eating quiche, rhubarb pie and banana bread. We discussed that helpless feeling that arises when we ask the question: How does anyone wed oppositions? I, myself, experience my own inner duality…how do I present as a unified whole with such a split? Within families, there are opposite viewpoints, family members polarized against one another. Within my community, there are examples of polarization, immobility, the inability to see the other’s perspective. When both sides claim to have the final truth, how do we meet in the middle? We see how people go to war over opposing ideologies. There is a faction of people (me included) that considers war to be an obsolete way to handle our differences…yet there is ongoing warfare.

I often wonder what my part is today…growing this woman self, growing her out of the past that deemed woman second class, quieted her, effectively erased her voice from history. Writing poetry gives voice to what needs to be acknowledged and furthers the writer’s process. Ideally, it offers something to the readers.

The Future
© by Christine O’Brien

She blazes colors…
If I am to be a vessel for change
I can no longer be invisible,
nor quiet.
I review my early writings
of a woman chained to
outworn, disrespected roles.
Her models were false impressions
of what a woman should be.
Disloyal to herself,
while surrendering her salvation
to him.

She is silent in the midst
of her degradation.
She follows the mores
of how she has learned a woman
“should be, should behave.”
She has depths to which
she hasn’t dared to descend.
She has forgotten her worth,
her right to equal partnering,
muffled her voice,
disguised her face and figure.
She is depressed.

Her fire has gone into hiding,
but it is not extinguished.
Eruptions are scary
when you think you are only
malleable, adaptive, accepting
yielding and penetrated.
What does a spiritual,
grounded activism look like?

Too many of my women friends,
and me too, don’t look beyond today
or tomorrow…
“What’s for dinner,
are my needs well-met
is my family safe,
for now?
Have we defended against the virus,
sufficiently?
Are our cupboards full?
Are the essential workers
able to provide for us, hold us up?
For how long? 
Are the borders secure and
the air space protected?
Do we realize our interdependence? 
Yet?”

For if my sisters and brothers around
the globe–China, Africa, the Balkan Islands,
Indian Reservations, my next door neighbor–
are suffering, thirsty or hungry. 
If my clouded leopard in Malaysia,
my Spirit Bear in British Columbia,
my Tundra Swan’s very existence
are threatened, then so am I!
If the earth’s respiratory forests
are ingraciously removed
will I have the breath to speak
of upcoming peril?
Wouldn’t I rather
see the salvation that comes from
humanity arising,
not only in America
but across this expanse of earth–
our common, ever-shrinking home?

What, dear woman, with inner fire,
are you waiting for?

Everyone Needs an Ally

angel

This painting was prompted by a class in Paint Your Heart and Soul. Not initially knowing what a painting wants to express, I allow the images to show their presence.
I added the wolf and turned the figure into an angel.

What was new to me in this class was learning how to paint a lacy dress.  I couldn’t imagine how an artist could imply lace fabric.  I’m not 100% pleased and I appreciated acquiring a new art tool.  Another painting challenge for the artist is PAINTING HANDS!  I remember the painstaking effort to paint this one arm and hand.  I was pretty pleased at the time and by no means have I come close to mastering hands.  Sometimes an artist, not wanting to take the time and effort it requires to paint a hand let’s it disappear off the page, in a pocket, or hidden behind a skirt or another shielding object–a bouquet of flowers, a table or anything that fits with the painting.

This angel has an ally.  He is an ethereal wolf…part of the night, yet real to her as she is real to him.

****
In 2018, I encountered a gray wolf as I was driving down the mountain from Bunny Flat.  I had visited a new friend who was camping there.  We spent a sweet time together getting to know each other.  The vista was smudged by smoke from surrounding fires.  At this higher elevation, the air was breathable.  At one point she offered to lead me through a qigong set.  I agreed.  For the next twenty minutes, we moved our bodies in harmony with the nature around us.  A magical time.

I left her well before the sun set.  As I was rounding a curve in the road, I spied a large animal not very far ahead.  He seemed to be in no great hurry.  I slowed the car.  As happens, my brain tried to comprehend what this creature was.  Bear, no.  Dog, no.  What’s that in his mouth?  Finally, as I drew closer, my mind settled on a gray wolf with another rather large animal in his mouth!  He slipped down the side of a slight slope.  I pulled my car into the space beside the road.  I got out of the car, no fear only wonder.  I watched as he slowly meandered off into the shrubbery and trees.

The sense of wonder I felt stayed with me for a long time.  A visitation from a rare animal has meaning for me.  In the Native American Tradition, wolf is a teacher.  From Jamie Sams book, Medicine Cards:  “Wolf is the pathfinder, the forerunner of new ideas who returns to the clan to teach and share medicine.”

When I returned home, I googled the Gray Wolf.  I remembered reading that the Gray Wolf had crossed the border into northern California a couple of years before.  They were being tracked and protected by a team of rangers.  Their exact whereabouts were kept a secret so as to avoid hunters.  Then the team lost track of the sly wolves.   How fortunate I was to see one of these amazing beings that memorable day.

Do You Believe?

The movie, Fairytale: A True Story–a 1997 French-American Fantasy Drama, relates the story of the Cottingley Fairies.

My friend Richard and I viewed this well-crafted film more than once and always came away with a sense of wonder.  I’m not exactly sure why Richard liked it so much–it’s one that he would watch again and again.  It certainly isn’t intended to be a children’s tale although you are likely to find it in the kids section at your local video store.