Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mary Oliver's Flare

Nourishing, rich and wise

Mary Oliver’s poem, Flare, invites us in with a modest greeting:

“Welcome to the silly, comforting poem.” Flare thus declares itself to be a particular type of poem, and one, probably, of limited virtues.

The misdirected reader can therefore be forgiven if she fails to notice right away that Oliver’s long poem, which kicks off her collection The Leaf and the Cloud (Da Capo Press, 2000), is wiser and carries a load much heavier than whimsy can bear.

In Oliver’s world “the finely hinged wings…” of the green moth, even one caught by a crow “…has trim, and feistiness, and not a drop of self-pity.”

Anything but silly, Flare rolls on:

“My mother
was the blue wisteria,
my mother
was the mossy stream out behind the house,
my mother, alas, alas,
did not always love her life,
heavier than iron it was
as she carried it in her arms, from room to room,
oh, unforgettable.”

Yet the unforgettable lies deep within the forgettable, which Oliver knows and shares with us. She writes about her father:

this was his life.
I bury it in the earth.
I sweep the closets.
I leave the house.”

So matter of fact. But why not? Oliver has made her peace. A proud declaration, actually, a tribute to her parents; time to move on with the business of living:

“I give them—one, two, three, four—the kiss of courtesy,
of sweet thanks,
of anger, of good luck in the deep earth.
May they sleep well. May they soften.

“But I will not give them the kiss of complicity.
I will not give them responsibility for my life.”

What parents ask for from their children is not the issue here. But what parent, seriously, could ask for more than Oliver gives here. And when she is done with her prayers for the dead, with courtesy, sweet thanks, anger and good wishes, she moves on with living, and with her poetry. The ant has a tongue, primarily, Oliver tells us, “…to gather all it can of sweetness.”

And so the poem, which is less “…than the world…” not even “…the first page of the world..." flows on, making its way in a manner that defies Oliver's modest opening declaration:

“Live with the beetle, and the wind.

“This is the dark bread of the poem.
This is the nourishing dark bread of the poem.”

I should be so silly.

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