A few months ago, I created an outdoor altar otherwise known as a poetry box. Here I make the most intimate and important offering I know how to make to the world: poems.
I started on the week of his 100th birthday by showcasing William Stafford’s “A Ritual to Read to Each Other,” a poem I have been living by since my 20’s. Next, at my son’s insistence, I shared one of my own poems, “Dear Reed Canyon,” in which my in-utero son appears. Since then, week by week, I’ve groped around for what I felt readers might need. Jack Gilbert’s “Failing and Flying” was gobbled up. Kaylin Haught’s “God Says Yes to Me” flew off the virtual shelf. And this week, Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” seemed to quench a thirst the people of my neighborhood were having. In a few days, every copy offered was gone.
By Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, you can hold a poem in your hands and find yourself held by something more certain than fact. You can be welcomed as you are, in the incomprehensible soft animal of your body. A single poem can transform the way we feel, the way we think, the truths we live by. This is why, in celebration of National Poetry Month, I’m hosting The Alchemy of Poetry, a reading featuring some of the most extraordinary poets and people I know: Sara Guest, Christopher Luna, John Morrison, Toni Partington, and Penelope Scambly Schott. We will each share poems we’ve written and read that have changed us. If you’re in the Portland, Oregon area, we hope you’ll join us—and share yours at the open mic to follow.
What poems do you live by? How do they announce your place in the family of things?