Poem of the Week, by Mary Oliver

Nine openings left in the Zoom room, January 7-13, in our first-ever, informal, kick off the new year with joy and freedom Write Together session! Seven days of morning and evening prompts, join in for any or all. Each session recorded in case you miss one. Click here for all the details

If you ask a group of people to name a favorite poet, the name Mary Oliver will pop up within seconds. And with good reason. A few of her poems mean so much to me that I long ago memorized them, the better to weave myself an invisible, always-there blanket of comfort.

This poem goes out today to everyone living with loneliness through the holidays. Maybe your marriage ended this year, or you lost someone dear to you from death or estrangement. Maybe you don’t know how you’re going to pay your rent next month. Maybe you or someone you love got bad news from a doctor. Maybe you keep listening for the sound of your dog when you put your key in the front door. Maybe you’re surrounded with friends and family and still, somehow, you feel like crying.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, this poem–and every poem of the week–is my offering to you.

Wild Geese 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.

Click here for more information about ​Mary Oliver.

My podcast: Words by Winter

Poem of the Week, by Mary Oliver

img_20190116_094526699Someone close to me sent me a booklet a while ago, photos and written memories of her life. It’s a fascinating glimpse into a childhood spent solo with older parents in upper Manhattan, a gentle childhood filled not with money, of which there was very little, but with family card games, shared meals, trips to museums and playgrounds, school days and summer camp upstate. Black and white photos show a small, smiling girl in the embrace of a mother and father who clearly adored her. Here they are leaning against a railing by Rockaway Beach. Here they are on the stoop of an apartment building. Here’s the little girl on the first day of school. 

One page in the booklet stands out to me. Titled “Dresses,” it details three dresses from her childhood – the look and feel of each, from fabric to trim to length and fit. Her mother made her these dresses while she was away at camp one summer, and she returned to find them carefully laid out on her bed.  When I told the writer how struck I was by that particular entry, she laughed, embarrassed. I almost didn’t put that page in the book, she said. Dresses. Such a silly, superficial thing to write about. But it was that small page, so precise in detail and image, that almost brought me to tears. We don’t have to write about the blue iris. We can write about weeds in a vacant lot, or a few small stones, or three small dresses. The memory of which, still bright and clear after a lifetime, feels to me like a doorway into thanks, and into the nature of love. 


Praying, by Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.



For more information on Mary Oliver, please click here.​

Poem of the Week, by Mary Oliver

Hey there, little guy. 28056283_10156130850921407_3444412315520744499_nIt’s been almost a week now. I washed your blankets and hung them on the line. The mats and small rugs we scattered around on the wood floors to help you with traction are stored away. The Painter put your bed in the storage room and washed your food and water bowls. Neither of us can talk about you in public, so we don’t.

I held the phone to your ear at the end so that the girls you adored could tell you what a good boy you were, that they had always and would always love you, and that you could go now. The Painter and I had our arms around you when you died, and we wrapped you up and carried you out to the van together when it was over, crying so hard we could barely see.  

Remember that day at the humane society so long ago? It was late, near closing time. We had been searching for weeks. We walked down the single aisle –it was a decrepit humane society, not one of the bigger and better-funded ones– and you were in the last cage. They had just admitted you that day. You looked up at us and slid your paw under the latched gate. You were not even a year old, a puppy in a Harley collar, and the family who surrendered you had written on the intake form that you were a “poor fit” for them. 

PeteyTheir loss, right? You were a perfect fit for us, even though, full disclosure, you did drive us all a little crazy back in the day, when your hearing was perfect and your eyesight was perfect and you were wild with energy and too smart for your (our) own good. You barked at the mailman every single day, you had to be put in tennis ball detox time and time again, you shook that little green rug back and forth so violently I used to worry that you’d jostle your brain. And let us not forget your undying hatred of tiny white fluffy dogs. 

At some point in the day you would sneak up on my perfectly made bed –this is back when you could still jump–and pull the quilt down and take a nap in the exact middle. Maybe you thought I wouldn’t notice. Remember how you jumped up onto the counter, a trick you learned from the cat, and gobbled down half that birthday pound cake before I came tearing into the kitchen like a banshee? Remember how those two guys in the car followed us that one day laughing and laughing because Miss, did you know that you and your dog have the exact same walk? Remember that other day when you and I practically ran around Isles and Bde Mka Ska because I was convinced that someone was tailing us, and then sure enough, that nice African guy came panting up to us at the end and said, Lady! Why you got to walk your dog so fast! I try to keep up for my exercise but my God lady I cannot! Remember how you would jump and scream –literally scream, not bark or yelp–when someone you loved walked through the door? You did that the very first time you met the Painter. It was a love affair between the two of you.


In the first few years when my babies were at their dad’s and I couldn’t sleep in the absence of their presence, I would wake you up and clip on the leash and out into the darkness we would go, tromping around the lakes, miles in the moonlight and street lights. It was the middle of the night but you never complained. You never whined. You never held back, wanting to stay home. You forged on, steady at my side as far as I took you, and I was not afraid because you were with me.

In fact, you always wanted to be with me. If I was sitting with my legs crossed, you draped your head over my ankle. If I was lying on the couch, you were curled up next to my feet. The last couple of years you would stand at the bottom of the stairs looking up at me, trying to gauge if I was going to stay up there a while instead of zipping back down, before making the slow clamber, one step at a time, up to be with me. Even at the end, when you must have been in bad pain, you still tried to get up so you could be close to us. So you could push your nose into our palms, lean your head against our legs, curl yourself into a black comma beneath the table as we ate. 

IMG_9295The day after you died, the girl to the right, the one who never, ever remembers her dreams, told me she’d had a dream so vivid it woke her up and she’d gone out to sit at her kitchen table to think about it. I was in a big city and I had to rescue a little dog and I was panicked and searching the city everywhere for him and finally found him. And he was in a little park playing with a bunch of other dogs, and he was so happy, and I realized I didn’t have to help him, so I left him with the other dogs. Do you think maybe it was Petey, sending us a  message?

The last thing you ate was your pain pill, hidden in a glob of peanut butter that you licked off my fingers. There’s a half-full box of treats sitting on top of the fridge, and a half-full bag of food next to it. There’s a stack of neatly folded bandanas, all colors, on the shelf. Your blue collar and the sheriff address badge that we bought so long ago are on the couch. I don’t know what to do with them. I don’t know what to do with all this sorrow.

Pete. Petey-boy. Sweet Pete. You were the dog of my children’s childhoods, and now they are grown and you are gone. You were the dog of my life, Petey. Rest easy sweet boy.


I Ask Percy How I Should Live My Life, by Mary Oliver

Love, love, love, says Percy.
And hurry as fast as you can
along the shining beach, or the rubble, or the dust.

Then, go to sleep.
Give up your body heat, your beating heart.
Then, trust.



For more information on Mary Oliver, please click here.​

Facebook page

Poem of the Week, by Mary Oliver

Pete in first snow, 2011Yesterday my faithful companion and I were out for his twice-daily walk, and by “walk” I mean amble. Wander. Meander. Pete is fourteen years old now, and the boy who used to tear around the lakes for hours on end, never tiring, with me half-jogging to keep up, and who would then come home to do hot laps with the neighbor dogs in our adjoining back yard, now sways from side to side and every now and then stumbles over sidewalk heaves and steps. He breathes heavily and coughs often (heart failure), his joints are stiff (arthritis), he doesn’t notice the squirrels he used to leap after (eyes/hearing). This has happened gradually, so that I’ve had time to get used to it. Or so I thought.

But when flipping through photos the other day, I found this one and it nearly brought me to my knees. I remember when I took it. It was the first snow of the year that night, probably ten years ago, and he stood there at the end of the leash waiting impatiently for me to take the photo so that he could get back to what he wanted, which was to go, go, go through new snow, down the unshoveled sidewalk.

Petey-boy, I hope you’re still around for this year’s first snow. Are you our good boy? Are you? Are you the best, best dog? 

 * * *


from “Work”
     – Mary Oliver

All day I have been pining for the past.
That’s when the big dog, Luke, breathed at my side.
Then she dashed away then she returned
in and out of the swales, in and out of the creeks,
her dark eyes snapping.
Then she broke, slowly,
in the rising arc of a fever.

And now she’s nothing
except for mornings when I take a handful of words
and throw them into the air
so that she dashes up again out of the darkness,

like this–

this is the world.

For more information on Mary Oliver, please click here.​
Facebook page

Poem of the Week, by Saeed Jones

I don’t know exactly what it is about this poem that haunts me, but I keep coming back to it. It might be a bunch of things – the Skoal-tin ring in the back pocket and the work-calloused hands that make me think of a lot of boys I grew up with, the fact that I love whiskey and bourbon, the way the self-hatred in it makes me sad and tired and thinking of a line from Mary Oliver that goes You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves, and how hard that is for so many people.


Body & Kentucky Bourbon
– Saeed Jones

In the dark, my mind’s night, I go back
to your work-calloused hands, your body

and the memory of fields I no longer see.
Cheek wad of chew tobacco,

Skoal-tin ring in the back pocket
of threadbare jeans, knees

worn through entirely. How to name you:
farmhand, Kentucky boy, lover.

The one who taught me to bear
the back-throat burn of bourbon.

Straight, no chaser, a joke in our bed,
but I stopped laughing; all those empty bottles,

kitchen counters covered with beer cans
and broken glasses. To realize you drank

so you could face me the morning after,
the only way to choke down rage at the body

sleeping beside you. What did I know
of your father’s backhand or the pine casket

he threatened to put you in? Only now,
miles and years away, do I wince at the jokes:

white trash, farmer’s tan, good ole boy.
And now, alone, I see your face

at the bottom of my shot glass
before my own comes through.


For more information on Saeed Jones, please click here.

My Facebook page.

Poem of the Week, by Mary Oliver

Excerpt from Work
– Mary Oliver


All day I have been pining for the past.
That’s when the big dog, Luke, breathed at my side.
Then she dashed away then she returned
in and out of the swales, in and out of the creeks,
her dark eyes snapping.
Then she broke, slowly,
in the rising arc of a fever.

And now she’s nothing
except for mornings when I take a handful of words
and throw them into the air
so that she dashes up again out of the darkness,

like this–

this is the world.

For more information on Mary Oliver, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/mary-oliver

Prompted by a line from a poem by Wyn Cooper

“The stars have fallen onto the sheets, fallen down to sleep with me.”

Lines from poems scroll continuously through me. Beginning at dawn, when I wake up, and throughout the day, lines from poems come to me, recite themselves silently in my head, in my voice, like song refrains spoken not sung.

Without poetry I would be a lost person. Remembered lines and fragments calm the wildness of my heart, absorb it into their own wildness and wilderness, translate it into words, corral the inner chaos and make it bearable.

Without poetry I might have to set fire to myself, to make the fire go away. Bless you, you poems, you tiny mantras placing slender arms around the day: I care. I want you.

Which is itself a fragment from a poem. Like all the below, which have been through-threading themselves throughout my mind ever since I woke up today.

* * *


I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. What I do know is  how to pay attention, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be  idle and blessed.  . .

Whatever leads to joy, they always say, to more life, and less worry.

It is difficult not to love the world, but possible.

The life I didn’t lead took place in Italy.

But one man loved the pilgrim soul  in you, and loved the sorrows of your changing face.

Come up to me, love, out of the river, or I will come down to you.

Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

What will you do with your one wild and precious life?

Today would be your birthday, and I send my love to you across the bridgeable divide.

Sometimes it is necessary to re-teach a thing its loveliness.

And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?

Last night as I  was sleeping I dreamt – oh marvelous illusion – that I had a beehive here inside my heart. And the golden bees were making white combs and sweet honey from my old failures.

At night we consoled ourselves
By discussing the meaning of homesickness.
But there was no home to go home to.
There was no getting around the ocean.
We had to go on finding out the story
by pushing into it —

The sea was no longer a metaphor.
The book was no longer a book.
That was the plot.
That was our marvelous punishment.

I am not done with my changes.