Mary Oliver‘s Devotions comes out in October 2017, but I’ve been carrying the advance reading copy around with me every day. It’s water-stained. The pages are folded down. Various poems are marked for easy reference. She is in my head.
I’ve visited this forest several times over the past months, marching in each time without the vaguest idea what I needed and crawling out each time with a different message. It’s a watchful woods.
There’s something sacred about the beat up ARC of Devotions. Something that echoes the sacred place I’ve found here, deep in the woods, off the trail – alone. It speaks the same language as this private, peaceful place.
I’ve read the poems to the trees.
It occurred to me that her words are a love affair with just this kind of thing. I had visions of the sounds of them carrying through the branches and across the creek bed, slipping through the spider webs and caressing the tips of the leaves. So today I marched in, still without the vaguest idea of what I needed but with a mission. I chose twenty of my favorite poems from the collection, typed them up and carried them into the woods. I sat in the creek bed and cut the paper, punched the holes, glued the pieces of this tribute together and cut the twine with my pocket knife. And then I looked for the place. If you know anything about wild places, they don’t conform to what you want. They are oblivious to you. I sat on a fallen tree, disappointed and discouraged. How can you pick one patch of an infinite continuum of perfection to make words float?
Of course, as it always is, the answer was right in front of me. There is no patch that is better than another, so right in front of me is where I started.
So, here it is. Twenty of my favorite poems by Mary Oliver, suspended in a sacred (to me) forest for just a few moments on a day that is like any other in this place, where life and death are the same motion and I am part of the dust and bark.
Top 20 (for now, and in no particular order – ever)
HOW I GO TO THE WOODS
WHEN I AM AMONG THE TREES
I’M NOT THE RIVER
DO STONES FEEL?
SEVEN WHITE BUTTERFLIES
THE WORLD I LIVE IN
CAN YOU IMAGINE?
AFTER READING LUCRETIUS, I GO TO THE POND
PASSING THE UNWORKED FIELD
I GO DOWN TO THE SHORE
THE OTHER KINGDOMS
ON MEDITATING, SORT OF
THE OLD POETS OF CHINA
I OWN A HOUSE