Benjamin, Who Came from Who Knows Where
by: Mary Oliver
What shall I do?
When I pick up the broom
he leaves the room.
When I fuss with kindling he
runs for the yard.
Then he's back, and we
hug for a long time.
In his low-to-the-ground chest
I can hear his heart slowing down.
Then I rub his shoulders and
kiss his feet
and fondle his long hound ears.
Benny, I say,
don't worry. I also know the way
the old life haunts the new.
I find this poem incredibly moving. It's not just Oliver's love poem to an old and loyal hound. It's a meditation on what it means to grow old. How we all are haunted by the ghosts of who we used to be in our younger days.
This morning, as I was driving to my office at the library, I saw a scar of orange light on the horizon. I knew immediately that the sunrise was going to be spectacular, so I texted one of my best poet friends. "Hey! Are you close by?" (Poet friends are about the only people I know who will always get excited about things like sunrises.)
Pretty soon, we were standing on the roof of the library, watching the heavens transform into something that belongs in a poem. This friend and I have been through quite a lot together in the last year, including the death of the third of our poet trio. Every time we find ourselves together, it's as if the ghost of our missing friend is always with us. Especially when we are doing crazy things like standing on the roof of a library building in sub-zero wind chills in order to experience an arctic dawn.
It truly was a moment when the old life haunts the new. Even though neither of us mentioned our missing companion as we stood calf-deep in snow, bathed in morning light, I know we were both thinking the same thing: our friend Helen would have loved this. She would have probably been leaping around that roof like a deer.
That's what happens when you get older. Mortality is no longer just reserved for grandmothers and grandfathers. It's something more present--a constant reminder of how precious each and every shared moment of friendship and beauty is.
We are haunted by the lives we used to live. Ghosts surround us all day long. They remind us to stop for moments of daily wonder.
Saint Marty gives thanks for his poet friend tonight, because she knows the old life and the new.