Rest In Peace, Mary Oliver. There is no flag to fly at half staff for poets, and governments do not care much for poets. Poets don’t care much for flags either, nor the insecurities they soothe with their soft flapping.

Mary Oliver cared about each little brown flag of last year’s beech leaves sighing their chittering death rattle into the wind. She cared about clarity. Though she never met me, she cared about me. She told me, and all of us, over and over that we belong. She told me that if there is any knowable god, it is on the Earth and in each other. The Church told me that I was an alien here, that I was somehow different from all the creatures and plants and rocks and waters of the earth, that my home was somewhere far away. Mary reassured me that I was as natural as a woodchuck. She agreed with me about the strangeness of modern life, about the absolute insanity of homework when there was a whole planet to be explored. She told me that there is no nothingness, but there might be an end to consciousness.

That is the value of poetry, the value of reading, and the value of an education. It’s not about finding a job. It’s about finding meaning in your work. It’s not about being smarter. It’s about being accountable.

I wish I could’ve met Mary. I’m not sure what I would’ve said, but that is the way with meeting famous people. Maybe I would’ve memorized something like what I’ve written here and recited it as if I was meeting some head of state. Mary was more important to me than any head of state, athlete, scientist, musician, or any celebrity you can name. I might have cried and hugged her and I’m sure she would’ve been uncomfortable with the whole thing. I am not very famous, but famous enough to know that the art is not the artist.

Thank you Mary Oliver, somewhere in the somethingness. Thank you for leaving behind a meticulous map of important things. The call of the wild geese, over here. The white fire of the stars, up there. The dark skirts of the earth, down there. You said you read Rumi every day. I read you every day. The Earth was your Beloved. Now you are together. You were never apart.


The Journey, by Mary Oliver


One day you finally knew

What you had to do, and began,

Though the voices around you

Kept shouting

Their bad advice‚

Though the whole house

Began to tremble

And you felt the old tug

At your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

Each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

Though the wind pried

With its stiff fingers

At the very foundations‚

Though their melancholy

Was terrible.

It was already late

Enough, and a wild night,

And the road full of fallen

Branches and stones.

But little by little,

As you left their voices behind,

The stars began to burn

Through the sheets of clouds,

And there was a new voice,

Which you slowly

Recognized as your own,

That kept you company

As you strode deeper and deeper

Into the world,

Determined to do

The only thing you could do‚

Determined to save

The only life you could save.

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