Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mary Oliver's Dog Songs rule

Vick Mickunas gave me his review copy of Dog Songs, the soon-to-be-released book of poems by Mary Oliver.

He wrote a little note in the book, signed it over to me this way:

"Dear Jeff, poetry is an art. It rarely pays but it sure feels good. Vick"

On Vick's radio show, recorded over the phone while I was still in DC, I recited "The Courage All Around " and "Always Jewish, Lately Palestinian."

Then Vick recited Mary O's poem, "How It Is With Us, How It Is With Them."

It's a great poem. Everyone should read it. "The Storm (Bear)" is another good one, short and wise. It says better what I've tried to say in some of my own poems, like, say, "Ecstasy" or "The Smell of Eternity," which is also a dog poem.

But the poem from Dog Songs that I want to share here is "If You Are Holding This Book," which reads:

You may not agree, you may not care, but
if you are holding this book you should know
that of all the sights I love in this world--
and there are plenty--very near the top of
the list is this one: dogs without leashes."

There's only one thing that I'd change in Oliver's poem. I'd move the "of" at the end of the fourth line  to the beginning of the fifth and last line. How's that for picking nits?


In this moment,
the world around is a perfect space.
The hot point inside you
and the cold point there
balance the hot and cold
the whole universe around.

In this moment,
you rip loose, run
naked, unshod,
down streets and alleys,
toe and heel transforming asphalt
to sea foam, soothing your soul.

In this moment,
you stride this way,
whip arms swinging,
shoulders like easy oil,
greasing and flinging you
through damp and distance.

The darkness divides for you,
long strider stampeding by,
bearing secrets.

Like racehorses and hound dogs,
nostrils grasping and snatching
your own scent, the moist surround,
all the exuberant plants of the night.

You are hailed,
and called
to this exquisite place.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Transgressive Acts of Men

Excluded from the matrilineal ascent,
I intrude.
I am before and beyond
all my mothers,

all my daughters,
mothering the clan;
in my DNA,
the Amazonian last daughter

staring in wonder
at the brink,
holding the hand
of all my sisters,

mindful of our brothers,
among whom I once was counted;
all who we were,
all who we are gone nova.

The end
when it comes,
almost more than we can bear,
more for certain than we can know,

memories on the way,
partners on the road,
dreams on the wing,
exploding outward.