Tonight, despite a raging cold, I dragged myself out and into the Los Angeles night with a friend and her mother to go eat dinner and hear Mary Oliver, one of the great American living poets. It is on nights like these that I am grateful to live in such a vast city, one that many deride but one that I have found beautiful, both naturally and culturally. I ate fire-roasted mussels and clams with a tinge of saffron and two crisp pieces of toast and sipped a mug of Blue Moon with a slice of orange floating in it. I ate bits of chopped lettuce and candied nuts with a sprinkle of blue cheese and tiny cubes of beets, dressed in lemon and salt and something herbal that I couldn't quite figure out. I drank a cup of strong coffee with a bit of milk and no sugar to brace myself for the poetry and we headed out to the UCLA campus with the almost-full moon in the city-lit sky.
And Mary Oliver? Mary Oliver is small and thin and from my third row seat, I saw the top of her silvery head and the flash of her smile. She has a wicked sense of humor and a clear, strong and mesmerizing voice. She read poems for an hour, both old and new, and the giant hall's silence was broken several times only by applause and the sound of smiles. It was brilliant and beautiful and soulful.
She read the entire twelve verses of a poem that I had never heard before, Flare. I thought of several of my friends as the words floated about and around. I thought of Ms. Moon and I thought of Maggie May and I thought of their childhood sorrow and wondered if they had ever heard this poem. The twelfth and last verse could almost stand alone, so here it is:
12. When loneliness comes stalking, go into the fields, consider the orderliness of the world. Notice something you have never noticed before, like the tambourine sound of the snow-cricket whose pale green body is no longer than your thumb. Stare hard at the hummingbird, in the summer rain, shaking the water-sparks from its wings. Let grief be your sister, she will whether or no. Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also, like the diligent leaves. A lifetime isn't long enough for the beauty of this world and the responsibilities of your life. Scatter your flowers over the graves, and walk away. Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance. In the glare of your mind, be modest. And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling. Live with the beetle, and the wind. This is the dark bread of the poem. This is the dark and nourishing bread of the poem.