“One or Two Things”
by Mary Oliver
Don’t bother me.
The butterfly’s loping flight
carries it through the country of the leaves
delicately, and well enough to get it
where it wants to go, wherever that is, stopping
here and there to fuzzle the damp throats
of flowers and the black mud; up
and down it swings, frenzied and aimless; and sometimes
for long delicious moments it is perfectly
lazy, riding motionless in the breeze on the soft stalk
of some ordinary flower.
The god of dirt
came up to me many times and said
so many wise and delectable things, I lay
on the grass listening
to his dog voice,
frog voice; now,
he said, and now,
and never once mentioned forever,
which has nevertheless always been,
like a sharp iron hoof,
at the center of my mind.
One or two things are all you need
to travel over the blue pond, over the deep
roughage of the trees and through the stiff
flowers of lightning — some deep
memory of pleasure, some cutting
knowledge of pain.
But to lift the hoof!
For that you need
For years and years I struggled
just to love my life. And then
rose, weightless, in the wind.
“Don’t love your life
too much,” it said,
into the world.
The first time I ever read Mary Oliver was at Pacifica. Ondine, who was a dancer had made a ceremonial basket of scrolls of poems of hers. She performed a ceremony and initiation for us in that little stone circle on the lower campus that is very Celtic in nature. I always thought of it like a miniature Stonehenge. It was a powerful place in those days, for me. That and the large oak that is now felled.
Ondine performed a dance once, and I gave her my Spanish shawl. She was a touchstone for me, there. As were the other writers and artists.
The shawl dated from the 20’s maybe. It had that Chinoiserie embroidery that I love.
I think most of that comes from my Uncle Spence. He knew everything about Chinese art.
The things I have kept from my family are few, and portable. But I saved them.
My Uncle’s lion, that my mother coveted. Vases. Some jewelry.
I’d like to find his films. I will. They must be down there in a vault.
Today, I’m going to get to meet my editor. I really am. It’s huge to me, mostly because of the sort of person he is, and the writer that he is. Somehow, I feel like I have crossed a bridge in terms of my writing. I know I have.
I used to have a little home when I was 28. People came by all the time. I lived across from the Riviera Theatre, on Pedregosa at Wally’s in a old carriage house that was converted. It was a Craftsman. My mother became very fast friends with Wally. He was gay, and charming.
After that, I let her have my apartment for a year.
In truth? I have never been able to unpack anywhere since then. Now I want to. I am interested in feeling like I have a home again. Or several homes. And I always want to have friends up. Always.
Actually? I want to be myself.
Because now I can, perhaps for the first time in my life. Wallace had come from Happy Canyon. When my mother’s friends started to go it was a terrible thing for her. After her parents went she did. Last year it was so hard to try and stay. Nobody who is in pain like that can stay?
But this year is different. I want to stay. And I want to fill my days with beauty, and friends, and art.