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The Arrowhead by Mary Oliver

What happened is, I sat on my desk yesterday and found that bits and pieces of my life were stolen.

I know no other way to say it except that. It feels a lot like someone is stealing my life, I wrote afterward to my friends, after an hour of leaning against the wall and trying to steady my breathing. Shaken, yes, that’s what I was. Words—all of this, here—this is who I am. Never mind the body, never mind the skin and bones and muscle—words, I am made of words. That’s my life, too, my whole fucking life: words.

What happened is, someone sent me a letter asking me to come back. Someone wrote me and said, your blog changed my life. He also said, I think you should know about this.

I know no other way to do it, and believe me I have spent the entire day mulling over what to do. I know no other way, do you see, except to reveal who you are, even if you might not have meant for things to happen the way they did, even if you did things with good intentions (I am trying to understand your actions when I say that).

I know no other way, and it is going to be painful for the both of us—it already is

What happened is, this blog—returntolive—copied a lot of what I have written here. And by ‘a lot’ I mean a lot. Try thirty entries. No, try more than that. Try entries written as far back as 2005. Try almost everything.

Let me be clear: the poems are yours as much as they are mine.

What I mean is, take them. What I mean is, read them, and read them again. What I mean is, hold them close to you, let them live under your skin. I have found these poems when I needed them. Your arrival here, your discovery of things that speak to you, that speak of who you are—who am I to deny such meeting?

Let me be clear: I have created this space to find myself. But you are here, dear reader, and you have stayed through all these years, and I recognise that. I recognise that this space is now yours, too, that we can be alone together here, that somehow we know each other even if we haven’t met, because poetry does that.

What I mean is: these poems have saved me. What I mean is, if they are going to save you, too, who am I to deny such opportunity? I want them to find their way to you, to your hands, by chance or choice. I want these poems to arrive at your life with bells ringing; I want you to feel alive, alive again. But I want these poems to sit quietly by your bed as well, and hold your hand when you feel you can’t get up, when you feel there is no meaning left in the world; I want you to know that you are not entirely by yourself, that someone loves you, that I love you, because what else is there to do in this life but love strangers who understand what it is to be utterly bereft?

These poems have saved me, and if they are going to save someone else—if they are going to save you—then take them. Let me be clear: I don’t care if you put them in your own blog, I don’t care if you send them to your lover, I don’t care if you share them with a friend, I don’t care if you tell them, I found this. Because you did. That’s the truth: I found them, but you found them, too.

What is important: to remember who wrote it. To remember who said those words that you now carry in your heart. To remember their names, and to remember them correctly. You have a responsibility now to get it right.

This is the least we can do: to remember who these poets are, to know that they wrote these words, so that the next time we speak of their work, their name would pass our lips as if a prayer of thanks.

I say Creeley, and I remember that pain is a flower. I say Walcott, and this comes back to me: You will love again the stranger who was your self. Reading someone else’s poems is, after all, all we’ve ever done, and I whisper, Light. Light.

But this person who kept that blog, is still keeping it—it’s protected now, “marked private by its owner”—also took my words.

Let me repeat what was written in the About page: “This blog is a collection of poems that speak to me, quotes that take my breath away, and my own writings/thoughts/poems.” Took them, collected them—it’s all semantics at this point, isn’t it. So let me say, took them, because that is what happened. My own words were taken, held in someone else’s possession, and were made to look like someone else wrote them.

My words, my thoughts, my sense of truth, my life. The things I wrote to accompany each poem were taken and made to fit someone else’s life. At least, that’s what it looked like, that’s what it felt like. I mean—it’s incredible.

To find a single, standalone post titled, “What brought you here?”, and know that I have written the exact same thing almost two years ago. To find another, titled “Not listening”, and know that I have written it almost eight years ago.

This hurts me, I told my friends. This hurts me terribly.

The wounds are deepest for things I have written when I was finally coming back to myself again, or when a great love broke my heart. Even my letters to all of you—like this one, or this one, or this one, or this one. All of it and more, taken.

All of it and more, copied and placed in a blog with no link back to where they were found. This person took and took and took, and in a matter of days, amassed a collection—and what a collection it is—of not only poems but life. My life. It almost felt like a dream, until it wasn’t.

Eight years I’ve been here. That’s a long time to be in one place. And yet, I admit, I confess, that the first question I asked myself as soon as I found out about all of this was not how did this happen?, but: is it time to leave?

I know I have thought about leaving a lot of times. Of packing up, of moving on somewhere else, of taking all of this with me, of emptying this place. You know this. You’ve witnessed it, how I turned inward, time and time again, how I wrote in the dark, in private, when it became too much. But then I always come back. Because it seems this is the one anchor I have that has never let me down. Because I have met versions of myself here, because it is proof that strangers who live on opposite sides of the world can become great friends, because one day in August, eight years ago, I posted the very first poem that spoke the truth of who I was: My heart had become very small; it took very little to fill it.

Nevertheless, when I read, I think you should know about this and consequently found out—I thought, I must leave.

I am thinking, who am I to be hurt over this? Do I even have the right to?

I am thinking, but what if I left and end up regretting it? And what happens now to you, to all of you, to all of this?

A friend said, the trouble is that this could always happen. And I know that, I absolutely know that. Because this is not the first time, and it will not be the last. But—things are different for me now. I’m more protective of what I write than when I was much younger, if that makes sense.

The magnitude of this—this incident, the scale of it—worries me. Eight years of reading and writing, and all it took to produce a mirror of this place was a few days.

Is it worth the risk of staying?

I am thinking, maybe nothing is ever mine.

I am thinking, isn’t everything borrowed? Certainly this time. Certainly my life. We are all of us borrowed, and when I say my life, I know it really means, this life that I was given, was allowed to have, for a little while. Even language, even words, even the mouth I use to speak my thoughts, even the hands I use to write what I feel. All of it lent to me, the moment I opened my eyes and started my journey in this world.

So what right have I to make a claim?

What right have I to say, this is mine, and you took it?

Return to live—that is what you have named your blog. Isn’t it funny that I have stayed quiet since June (writing here still, but where no one else can see), yet returned and resurfaced because of what you did?

If you must know, my friends wanted me to make a report, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Report—such an unpleasant word to me now. To give an account of what happened. To share the results of an investigation, a finding. To have you known, to expose you, to have someone shut you down, is what they tell me I should do, but in the process, I’ll have to announce my presence, too.

All night I pondered over this, what to do. Tested its weight, asking myself if it’s the only thing there is, and if it’s cruel. Asking myself if I can be kinder, if I can find another way to resolve it. I slept fitfully. And when I woke up, your blog has turned its back to the world.

Do I feel foolish, worrying all this time, only to be met with this today? Yes. Do I feel hurt still? Yes. Do I want to hear from you, hear your side of things? Yes, of course, yes. Do I think writing about this, writing about you, is difficult? Yes. Do I feel bad about it? God, yes. More than you’ll ever know.

But here we are. You led us here; you’ve got to admit that, at least. I know no other way to do it, because it all started here. I don’t even know your name.

I am thinking, maybe I’ve set myself up for all of this.

I am thinking, maybe nothing is ever mine.

The Arrowhead
Mary Oliver

The arrowhead,
which I found beside the river,
was glittering and pointed.
I picked it up, and said,
“Now, it’s mine.”
I thought of showing it to friends.
I thought of putting it—such an imposing trinket—
in a little box, on my desk.
Halfway home, past the cut fields,
the old ghost
stood under the hickories.
“I would rather drink the wind,” he said,
“I would rather eat mud and die
than steal as you steal,
than lie as you lie.”

From Wild Geese: Selected Poems by Mary Oliver, published by Bloodaxe Books, 2006.

Comments (42)

  • It will break my heart should you ever leave. You have no idea how dependent I am upon your words. Please stay.

  • Radwa El Barouni

    Please stay, many a time your posts (your own words) and the poems you have chosen have brightened my day and led me to contemplate on various things…you have also introduced me to poems that I would never had read if you hadn’t posted them. Sorry that you had to go through this. it reminds me of a line from Jeanette Winterson’s novel “Art and Lies”
    and the line as far as I remember was “What of me is mine?”
    (p.s I am on the other side of the ocean here in Egypt in North Africa) so please realize your ability to spread love and light all over via your words

  • nools

    Hello. It is your decision now as it ever was whether you choose to stay. I am sorry you suffered this, and I will be sorry if you decide to go for good. But those things are much less to me than: I have been truly touched by the words you’ve shared here, both yours and others’, and despite this injury and whatever you should decide, nothing can reduce the healing your curation has afforded me. That stays with me, and so remains my gratitude and well wishes toward the kind and graciously voice I met here. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I hope peace and comfort follow you always.

  • […] The Arrowhead by Mary Oliver […]

  • Carlos

    I saw what you wrote on the right side of this blog. Okay T. I will wait. For you I will wait. But come back. Come back okay? You are not alone and I need you.

  • MJ

    minsan, iniisip ko, ikaw ako. o ako ikaw. o maaring iisa nga tayo, hinati sa dalawa, binigyang ng magkaiba/magkabilang mundo. pero, hindi ikaw ang ako, at ako ang ikaw.

    ganito mo ako hinahaplos–sa mga pinili mong tula, sa mga mumunting piraso o ang pinakamalalaking bahagi ng iyong pag-iral na mahika mong nailalapat sa mga salita.

    ito nga marahil ang bisa ng tula. nagiging isa tayo.

    maraming salamat.

    maaari kang lumisan at iwanan ang lahat, o dalhin maski ang sarili mong bakas. pero, iiwan mo kaming maghahanap. at makikita ka namin, marahil, hindi dito, o baka sa ibang lugar, sa ibang panahon.

    katulad mo, gusto kong mahalin ang salarin ng iyong unti-unting kawalan.

    mahal ko ang mga salita mo, manatili ka sana.


  • kate

    Your words matter. You’ve created a space for beauty and hope here that is a small but significant sanctuary for your readers. I am SO THANKFUL for your voice! I hope you will be able to continue to share it.

  • tjoyce

    words just are. But the catalyst is your impression of this ocean of sound. Someone should, no, must, must name, name the catalysing light that makes the rest come to be seen. Or else the light sounds hollow, and will leave no true echo. They must know this, if they pretend to truly know these words you expose.

  • Your Fan

    My computer remembers the last time I commented here, and the email I used, a thousand years and another life ago.

    I don’t remember when I started reading you. I recall all the friends I had who discovered you independently. I recall finding beautiful poems here, and sharing them with the girl I wooed, under fluffy clouds and gorgeous sky. I recall finding tortuous poems here, to keep me company as I simmered in her wake, her departure. I recall finding strong poems here, as I built back my life, what was taken from me, what I gave away to her.

    Stay. Come back. Please.

    I have lived three lives since I started reading. I hope you will still write here, share things with us here, see me through another few lives.

    We dance, though they laugh. We must keep dancing, or they win.

    I love you. Stay.

  • Feb

    Hi, T. I’m sorry if this sounds insensitive, but may I request that you enable the ‘random’ poem button again? It seems to have gotten lost. I go here when I need to hear some beautiful words, and I like to think by hitting the ‘random’ button a poem that I need to hear is chosen for me.


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