Sunday, January 4, 2009

Poem by Mary Oliver

I remember reading Mary Oliver's poem Sleeping in the Forest during a writing class. We only read the one poem by her but that brief encounter left me wanting to read more. She is a true observer of the natural world and through her words the reader can appreciate a deeper connection to nature.

When I went to the bookstore I couldn't decide which of her poetry books to get so I opted for her "New and Selected Poems: Volume One" figuring it would give me a sampling of her work. My favorite section is from her book "American Primitive" and The Sea is probably my favorite poem from the collection.

Growing up in a New England coastal village (photo below), the Atlantic Ocean was a central part of my surroundings and my life. My memories are filled with salty summer days, unforgiving storms, restless nights listening to the waves break, the moon's reflection against the black water...I loved the ocean so much that I sometimes felt as if I wasn't that far removed from it. The ocean was as much a part of my home as the land. I wrote poems of my own to express this connection—this almost "lack of evolution" that causes people who grow up on the sea to feel as if they haven't fully evolved from their ancient ocean ancestors. Oliver's poem captures that feeling—that pull back to our original home—and reads almost like a tale of human evolution on rewind.

The Sea
by Mary Oliver

Stroke by
stroke my
body remembers that life and cries for
the lost parts of itself—
fins, gills
opening like flowers into
the flesh—my legs
want to lock and become
one muscle, I swear I know
just what the blue-gray scales
the rest of me would
feel like!
paradise! Sprawled
in that motherlap,
in that dreamhouse
of salt and exercise,
what a spillage
of nostalgia pleads
from the very bones! how
they long to give up the long trek
inland, the brittle
beauty of understanding,
and dive,
and simply
become again a flaming body
of blind feeling
sleeking along
in the luminous roughage of the sea's body,
like victory inside that
insucking genesis, that
roaring flamboyance, that
beginning and
conclusion of our own.

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