Friday, February 26, 2010

The Twelfth Verse of the Poem

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:


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.


  1. Sounds like a perfect night. Thanks for the beautiful poem.

  2. Oh! Wow! I am so happy for you. I love Mary Oliver! The poem you chose to share is a powerful one. I'm glad you had such a magical evening.

  3. I'm very pleased to meet Mary Oliver. Thank you for introducing us!

  4. Seriously - a night with Mary Oliver.
    oh, Elizabeth, how incredible.

    How you shared it with us is beautiful as well.

    And the poem. I love love it. ( as someone who carried/carries grief around too long )

    I hope you feel better soon. And the violent snowstorm we're having and will have for the next few days is enough reason to love your city , let alone opportunities like this.

  5. That is exactly how it feels to me- this craziness of life and then I go outside and into the woods and in the pastures and I DO consider the small creatures and it does help my heart. Thank-you, Elizabeth.
    And by the way- Blue Moon beer with a slice of orange in it is my favorite.

  6. What a fabulous way to spend an evening, though I'm sorry you're sick. It sounds like perfect medicine.
    Mary Oliver has a voice of clarity, honesty and beauty the likes of which I've never heard elsewhere. She is like some kind of prophet. I'm so glad that you had 3rd row seats from which to see and hear her. Thank you for sharing this, for bringing us with you. XO

  7. i'm so pleased you were able to take in this evening; the food for body and soul sound equally delicious.

  8. thanks Elizabeth- I shared this with my daughter, away at college for the first time and finding that grief is her sister.

  9. Nice writing. Poetry zips RIGHT over my head most of the time. Dunno why. Maybe because I don't try hard enough to really understand it.

    Still, sounds like a nice evening. Colds? Suck. I'm battling one also.

  10. You constantly open my eyes to new things! Thank you for sharing the poem. Hoping you feel better soon...

  11. Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets. How divine it must have been to sit there and listen to her beautiful words. Lucky you! Wishing you a lovely weekend!

  12. I am so sorry about the cold but I must say I envy you, I wish I could hear her read once again. I cannot begin to tell you how deeply and sincerely I admire her. When she was at Bennington I had a chance to meet her and her late partner once. Very lovely people, both of them.

    There is something about the way she weaves words and feelings, always making you think about what it means "in the moment", as you read it, that fills me with admiration for both the art and the craft of writing.

    Do you have "Our World" ?

  13. i can tell you i live and breathe those words and then forget them and then live and breathe and ....

    god how beautiful. really. you are so lucky to have seen her. thank you for posting this piece of poetry.

  14. You are so lucky. I would love to hear Mary Oliver read her poems. Loved this one as well. She seems to be firmly rooted to the earth in a way that so many of us have forgotten.

  15. What a beautiful poem. It is a very sad day to lose such an amazing woman.



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