On the Q train, going home from the Union Square Barnes and Noble, my toe still smashed and her poetry books in hand, I say, "When I list all the poets whose work I've been buying this summer, trying to learn all these things I never learned, I think it's strange that they're all men." We are standing, holding the same metal pole, as the train rushes express through Prince Street, shuddering onward toward Canal. "It's what we're taught to like, isn't it?" she says. She lists many women whose books I do not own, says, "And have you read Mary Oliver? She's terrific." And of course, I know, of course, I've read Mary Oliver--I've even posted "Daisies" for you. But I don't have her work, not in my head, not in my library. (And it was one of her books we had gone to search out at the bookstore in the first place; I remember this now.)
Tonight after dinner, a stop at the bookstore, a quick whirl past the shelves, where two volumes of Oliver's poetry all but grasp my arm as I start passing them by. The paperback volume is now mine. But the hardback yielded me my new motto, perhaps the first line I can actually imagine wanting to have written on my body. See if you can figure out which one it is.
What I Have Learned So Far
Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I
not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,
looking into the shining world? Because, proper-
ly attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is sug-
gestion. Can one be passionate about the just, the
idea, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit
to no labor in its cause? I don't think so.
All summations have a beginning, all effect has a
story, all kindness begins with the sown seed.
Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of
light is the crossroads of--indolence, or action.
Be ignited, or be gone.--Mary Oliver
And then the most extraordinary thing of the day--then, after I'd left you this poem, after I'd left the officehouse for the night, after I thought I knew what I was going to do next: then, the moon stopped me right there in my walk, and as I turned toward the car so that I could get out my camera, and as I saw the dew on the bush to my right twinkle past in my turning, and as I started to move past the bushes that had been to my left: then, a spider's web in dimensions like none I've ever seen, a web so complexly involuted as to be a sphere inside a cube held tight at all eight corners, suspended there with a spider at its center. I called out to a colleague who was leaving his night seminar. For a moment, we bent together and watched the web's lamplit stillness. Finally, my colleague said, "I wonder if it will still be there tomorrow." There was nothing else to say, and so we both went home.