Dear Mary Oliver

I won't start with words
for you have given me so many meaningful ones
and I want my words to you to soar, to sing, to meet you
wherever you are now
in some deep and eternal space

I would like to walk through the woods with you
see what you see
follow you like a ghost
and touch the same sword fern along the path
see how long you stare at each tree
and when you sit, I would sit
and wait for the birds to mistake us for neighbors

maybe after a few hours of this I would materialize
and you would look over and notice me
and thats when I would start apologizing and stuttering and trying to justify the space
I am occupying beside you
as if this planet couldn't possibly need another poet
another time waster
another set of footprints on this forest path

and then I shut myself up and you smile
you smile and hand me
a blank notebook and pen
small enough to fit in my pocket
and blank enough
as if to say:
what you see,
write it down.


I wrote this shortly after Mary Oliver died, as I was struck by how grieved I felt. Though I only knew her through her writing, I felt I had lost a teacher. She has helped teach so many how to pay attention, breath deeper, how to write about our actual lives in language we actually use. The first poem I remember reading of hers is one called Thirst, given to me years ago on a small square of paper. That white wrinkled square has somehow managed to survive on our fridge to this day. From there I drank in her words often and still cannot manage to go to a bookstore without at least looking in the O's of the poetry section.

Writing my own poetry often reveals thoughts I have rolling around my head that I often haven't even acknowledged yet. In writing this poem, I realized one of the best gifts Mary Oliver has given me. Permission. Everyone has a strong unique voice. This is core to the AWA philosophy and has proven true again and again in my experience. M.O. helped me to see that this also applies to me. I believe it now: there can never be too many poems, too many songs, too many stories. What you see, write it down.