Sunday, January 8, 2023

January 8: "That Little Beast," a Good Friend, Loss

Mary Oliver writes about her little beast . . . 

That Little Beast

by:  Mary Oliver

That pretty little beast, a poem,
     has a mind of its own.
Sometimes I want it to crave apples
     but it wants red meat.
Sometimes I want to walk peacefully
     on the shore
and it wants to take off all its clothes
     and dive in.

Sometimes I want to use small words
     and make them important
and it starts shouting the dictionary,
     the opportunities.

Sometimes I want to sum up and give thanks,
     putting things in order
and it starts dancing around the room
     on its four furry legs, laughing
     and calling me outrageous.

But sometimes, when I'm thinking about you,
     and no doubt smiling,
it sits down quietly, one paw under its chin,
     and just listens.

Mary Oliver can't control her poem.  It has a mind of its own, sometimes behaving itself, sometimes being what it naturally is:  a creature full of wild, emotional abandon.  I picture Oliver walking with a leash in her hand, calling her poem's name as it goes crashing into the woods after a squirrel or chipmunk.

I recently wrote a poem for a good friend who lost her mother last week.  I always find words difficult to herd when faced with loss.  It really is like trying to control a beast.  What do you say to a person who has lost a cherished love one?  What words are going to ease the pain?  The fallback is, of course, "I'm so sorry."  It's a safe response to a person in pain.

A poem doesn't really concern itself with being safe.  Instead, it will plunge into deep waters.  Climb to the top of the tallest tree in the forest and howl at the moon.  Charge into a cave that smells like sleeping lions.  Because a poem has its finger on the pulse of what it really means to be alive.

I don't know if the poem I wrote for my grieving friend was any good.  It may not have been particularly comforting, although that was its intent.   What I can say about the poem was that it was the closest I could come to expressing my true feelings for her and her loss.

Because, let's face it, loss is kind of unspeakable.  Try to describe it, and you have to use cliched terms like "hollow" and "empty" and "grief-stricken."  Try to comfort it, and you start saying things like "he's in a better place now" and "at least she's out of pain."  Try to accept it, and you court the sort of survivor's guilt that keeps you awake at night.

So, poetry it is for me.  Wild, untamable poetry.  Because that's what life is--ferociously unpredictable.  I write lines on a piece of paper, fold that paper, and stick it in an envelope, where it claws and gnashes its teeth until it's set free again.

Tonight, Saint Marty raises his friend up in the kind of love that makes the wounded heart sit down, put a paw under its chin, and just listen.

No comments:

Post a Comment