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“It Is A Serious Thing / Just To Be Alive” — Notes On Red Bird: Poems By Mary Oliver

2012 10 11 Red Bird

My days have been difficult and dark of late. I don’t know anything else but that deep space with no light; it’s as if I have lived there always. This morning, I opened Red Bird: Poems by Mary Oliver and found prayers for my life. I am not a deeply religious person but her words have touched my soul deeply—they always have, anyway—and I thought, damn, there is nothing truer than this, right now:

Sometimes
melancholy leaves me breathless.
— from Sometimes

When she writes in Red Bird, “I know He has many children / not all of them bold in spirit,” I found myself saying yes.

When she writes, “because the heart narrows / as often as it opens—” I say yes again.

In Night and the River, again I found pieces of my life: “and I could not tell / which fit me // more comfortably, the power / or the powerlessness; / neither would have / entirely.”

As is in Invitation: “it is a serious thing / just to be alive / on this fresh morning / in this broken world” and in A River Far Away and Long Ago: “Since then / I have looked and looked / for myself, / not sure // who I am, or where, / or, more importantly, why.” Yes, yes, yes. A whole universe of yes.

So many of her poems are about surrender, which I confess, I haven’t been there yet. But so many others, too, are about coming to the very point of breaking, of being broken—and I have been there. To know that one day I could come up for air and be on the other side: it gives me hope. “Let the world / have its way with you,” she says in Summer Morning.

Now to read this book, once more, twice, thrice, until I find my way, until I can walk back to my body and feel whole. The Red Bird Explains Himself, after all: “And no less, to make this work, / the soul has need of a body.”

There is nothing else but holding on, yes, yes, truly. I found the words that would speak for me at last. My heart opens and closes like a fist. I am telling it to come back, come back. What I would give to come back, finally—to come back, again.

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