Monday, January 30, 2023

January 30: "Her Grave," Eulogize and Memorialize, Helen Pentecost

Mary Oliver finds love and life in grief . . . 

Her Grave

by:  Mary Oliver

She would come back, dripping thick water, from the green bog.
She would fall at my feet, she would draw the black skin
from her gums, in a hideous and wonderful smile--
and I would rub my hands over her pricked ears and her
     cunning elbows,
and I would hug the barrel of her body, amazed at the unassuming
     perfect arch of her neck.


It took four of us to carry her into the woods.
We did not think of music,
but, anyway, it began to rain


Her wolfish, invitational, half-pounce.

Her great and lordly satisfaction at having chased something.

My great and lordly satisfaction at her splash

of happiness as she charged

through the pitch pines swiping my face with her 

wild, slightly mossy tongue.

Does the hummingbird think he himself invented his crimson throat?

He is wiser than that, I think.

A dog lives fifteen years, if you're lucky.

Do the cranes crying out in the high clouds

think it is all their own music?

A dog comes to you and lives with you in your own house, but you

do not therefore own her, as you do not own the rain, or the

trees, or the laws which pertain to them.

Does the bear wandering in the autumn up the side of the hill

think all by herself she has imagined the refuge and the refreshment

of her long slumber?

A dog can never tell you what she knows from the

smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know

almost nothing.

Does the water snake with his backbone of diamonds think

the black tunnel on the bank of the pond is a palace

of his making?


She roved ahead of me through the fields, yet would come back, or

wait for me, or be somewhere.

Now she is buried under the pines.

Nor will I argue it, or pray for anything but modesty, and

not to be angry.

Through the trees there is the sound of the wind, palavering.

The smell of the pine needles, what is it but a taste

of the infallible energies?

How strong was her dark body!

How apt is her grave place.

How beautiful is her unshakeable sleep.



the slick mountains of love break

over us.

This is how anyone recovers from loss.  Slowly.  Second by second.  Hour by hour.  Day by day.  

I always find funerals strange affairs.  For a little while, everyone gathers to pray and eulogize and memorialize.  Then everybody goes to another place (usually) to eat and visit and laugh.  I find that transition from sorrow to fellowship jarring.  But perhaps that's the way it should be.  Like a drink of ice cold water after being in the desert for a week or so.  It's a turning back to life.

So many times, living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the change from winter to spring is very sudden.  Not a slow melting over days or weeks.  It can happen overnight.  I've gone to bed, layered under quilts and blankets, and woken up into a morning where the sun is shining and birds are singing in the pines.  It's a beautiful shock to the system.

Tonight, I hosted a book launch event at the library where I work.  The book was a manuscript written by my friend, Helen.  A collection of poems she'd been working on for over a year, right up until the last weeks of her life last August.  After she died, I worked with another poet friend to usher those 39 poems into book form.

The event tonight was packed with Helen's friends and admirers.  People who've been missing her terribly these past six months.  There were tears shed.  Lots of hugs exchanged.  But the overall emotion I felt in the room was joy.  It was a celebration, and, with each poem that was read and story shared, Helen was there with us.  Her breath, captured on the page, blew around us like some kind of Helen Pentecost, anointing each person, blessing us all.

I had expected to feel Helen's absence a lot tonight.  Instead, I felt her presence, pushing us, willing us to embrace the wonder that is this world.  That's what Helen did each and every day she lived.

Saint Marty is wonder-filled tonight.

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