Monday, September 27, 2010

Wild Geese

My friend, Sarah Bain, posted this on Facebook today and I was flooded by emotion. This poem has always spoken to me so clearly, and I wanted to share it here.

Wild Geese

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 your 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.

-Mary Oliver

It gives me shivers, and reminds me that everywhere, all the time, people are dying, and people are surviving, and the sun rises, and sets, and rises again, and this is what is supposed to happen. I never think that Charlotte was supposed to die, but somehow this Mary Oliver poem reminds me in such a humbling way that death is just a part of life, and that even in our deepest grief we can search ourselves for what we're made of and rise out of the depths. I almost don't want to say too much about what it says to me, because whoever you are, I know it says so much to you, and I want it to be yours. Read it a few times, over and over. Breathe.

When I was giving birth to Aoife, it was a fast and furious labor. Contractions had begun a little after five in the afternoon, and by seven o'clock I was in full, raging labor. She would be born a little before nine o'clock that evening. As true, hard labor set in, somehow, through the drone of my woman's song, as I rocked on a birthing ball and breathed deeply and slowly, those words came to my mind: Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. It became a mantra, in that absolutely out-of-control way that things just become what they will be while you are giving birth. For hours, as each surge hit me like a Mack truck, I would rock slowly and gently, breathing in, and repeating it inside my head: let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. An image would come to me, then, of the flesh around my middle softening, and almost melting, of myself sinking into the ball with relief and delight, and this was how it went. Again and again, I repeated this to myself. Again and again, I was just doing the thing that women do.

Thanks, Sarah, for bringing me back to that beautiful place and also for reminding me to think the words of that whole poem-- perhaps the only one, now, in the world that I can truly recite from memory-- to remind me of my own gentle place in the family of things.

And, as an aside, but slightly related to dear Aoife's birth, I made this for her half birthday today. Absolutely divine, and I recommend it highly.


Sara said...

I love Mary Oliver.

Rixa said...

This was one of my favorite poems when I was a graduate student and I'd forgotten about it until now.

Hope's Mama said...

Lovely poem. I have not heard it. If I'm lucky enough to ever give birth again, I will try and remember this. Meanwhile, I am licking my lips at that cake. Hips are shaking their head at me!

Christy said...

Just wanted to let you know that I have selected you for The Lovely Blog award. You can read about it at my blog. You have written some very powerful posts that have been resources for me many times. I read your blog very often (and this cake sounds delish!)