Category Archives: mary monday

close as two pages…

Because I do like me some book-ish poetry…

by Elizabeth Bishop

Close close all night
the lovers keep.
They turn together
in their sleep,

close as two pages
in a book
that read each other
in the dark.

Each knows all
the other knows,
learned by heart
from head to toes.


books on my desk

A few of the books that are regularly stacked on my desk at home…

resolved #2, 2015

This photo has nothing whatsoever to do with poetry.  It's a snap of the kids sitting on the back porch in the sunshine over the holidays.

This photo has nothing whatsoever to do with poetry. It’s a snap of the kids sitting on the back porch in the sunshine over the holidays.   🙂

For those of you who are longtime readers of my blog, you know that I have a certain fascination with poetry.  At times I’ve penned a bit of poetry for this space and have often linked to, or included poetry in my posts.

Why poetry?  I’m not sure, but I think it has something to do with the chewiness and brevity of a poem.  It does so much work in so little space.  This appeals to the minimalist in me.

So as a way to include my poetry in my year, I resolved to listen to The Writer’s Almanac podcast each morning as I sit down to breakfast.  I must say that it’s great to start the day with beautiful words.

Mary Monday: renewal

Returning to my “Mary Monday” poetry series, from oh-so-long ago….

How I wish that I’d read this poem before I spent three hours at the DMV last week, getting my stolen Driver’s License replaced:

(from the Writer’s Almanac):


by Jeffrey Harrison

At the Department of Motor Vehicles
to renew my driver’s license, I had to wait
two hours on one of those wooden benches
like pews in the church of Latter Day
Meaninglessness, where there is no
stained glass (no windows at all, in fact),
no incense other than stale cigarette smoke
emanating from the clothes of those around me,
and no sermon, just an automated female voice
calling numbers over a loudspeaker.
And one by one the members of our sorry
congregation shuffled meekly up to the pitted
altar to have our vision tested or to seek
redemption for whatever wrong turn we’d taken,
or pay indulgences, or else be turned away
as unworthy of piloting our own journey.
But when I paused to look around, using my numbered
ticket as a bookmark, it was as if the dim
fluorescent light had been transformed
to incandescence. The face of the Latino guy
in a ripped black sweatshirt glowed with health,
and I could tell that the sulking white girl
accompanied by her mother was brimming
with secret excitement to be getting her first license,
already speeding down the highway, alone,
with all the windows open, singing.

Have I not been ready…

Today is a day for a poem. You know that kind of day…when morning comes while you’re standing stocking-footed in the garden and eating greek yogurt with toasted almonds and a sprinkle of nutmeg and realizing that the rosebushes in your backyard are covered with new buds (again).  And you can’t help but think that sometimes such beauty hurts just as much as it heals…

From Mary Oliver’s “Am I Not Among the Early Risers”

Here is an amazement–once I was twenty years old and in
every motion of my body there was a delicious ease,
and in every motion of the green earth there was
a hint of paradise,
and now I am [forty] years old, and it is the same.[..]

I bow down.

Have I not loved as though the beloved could vanish any moment,
or become preoccupied, or whisper a name other than mine
in the stretched curvatures of lust, or over the dinner table
Have I ever taken good fortune for granted?

Have I not, every spring, befriended the swarm that pours forth?
Have I not summoned the honey-man to come, to hurry,
to bring with him the white and comfortable hive?

And, while I waited, have I not leaned close, to see everything?
Have I not been stung as I watched their milling and gleaming,
and stung hard?

Have I not been ready at the iron door,
not knowing to what country it opens–to death or to more life?

Have I ever said that that the day was too hot or too cold
or the night too long and as black as oil anyway,
or the morning, washed blue and emptied entirely
of the second-rate, less than happiness

as I stepped down from the porch and set out along
the green paths of the world?


This seems the perfect poem to ruminate on as I’m headed out the door for a morning swim (especially that last stanza).  There have been times in my life when swimming was the most important thing I could do–I’m thinking of the night after I learned that my father had terminal cancer.  I swam 100 laps then, despite being 8 months pregnant.  Swimming until I’d lost every ounce of strength left in me.  Because I thought I could swim away the hurt and the reality of what was happening…

And one more thing: I’m looking for a local who’d like to do some ocean swimming with me. If you’re interested, drop me a line.

The Swimming Lesson
by Mary Oliver

Feeling the icy kick, the endless waves
Reaching around my life, I moved my arms
And coughed, and in the end saw land.

Somebody, I suppose,
Remembering the medieval maxim,
had tossed me in,
Had wanted me to learn to swim,

Not knowing that none of us, who ever came back
From that long lonely fall and frenzied rising,
Ever learned anything at all
About swimming, but only
How to put off, one by one,
Dreams and pity, love and grace,–
How to survive in any place.

when you hear that unmistakable pounding…


West Wind #2

You are young.
So you know everything.
You leap into the boat and begin rowing.
But listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment,
without any doubt,
I talk directly to your soul.
Listen to me.
Lift the oars from the water,
let your arms rest,
and your heart,
and heart’s little intelligence,
and listen to me.

There is life without love. It is not worth a bent
penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a
dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile
away and still out of sight, the churn of the water
as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the
sharp rocks – when you hear that unmistakable
pounding – when you feel the mist on your mouth
and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls
plunging and steaming – then row, row for your life
toward it.

~ Mary Oliver ~


I went to the beach last week to chase the setting sun, but I was wearing my bionic leg so I couldn’t even dip in a toe to the water (for fear of shorting out my circuitry).  Such an ache I felt to leave leg and clothes in a heap on the beach and just swim…

The Mary Oliver poem below, especially the first stanza, reminds me of the day a few years ago when I received the pathology pictures from the hospital where I had my cancer treatments–including the images of my amputated limb.  It was tougher than I thought it would be to look at those images, and afterwards I went for a long swim.  As I let the water support me I ‘felt’ my leg there with me, for the first time in a long while.  It was a powerful moment to reconnect with something that I’d lost and mourned for so many years, my body truly re-membering itself as I moved through the water…

And this poem also reminds me of how I struggle against gravity, where every step can be a huge effort…and how I long for the ocean–knowing that at sea is where I feel more free and comfortable (and alive) than I ever do on land.

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.

Mary Monday: Whom they souse

[Shhhh…don’t tell anyone that I’m actually posting this one on Tuesday]
Cape Cod
My high school days were full of yearnings. Many of these were the typical yearnings of a teen: I wanted to achieve greatness and find my way in this big world. But some of these yearning were different, they were due to feeling trapped inside a body that yearned to move freely. Many of my dreams were about swimming…because water was the only place where I my body wasn’t hampered by gravity and a world made for bipedals.

I joined my high school swim team so I had a good excuse to be in the water for two hours per day. I also got certified as a lifeguard so I could work as a canoe instructor at summer camps. I swam in our backyard pool often, loving to float on my back and feel the sun on my body.

So when I fell in love with Whitman’s poetry I particularly loved his “Twenty-eight young men” poem. Of course I knew that it was highly sexually-charged (which also resonated with me on some levels*), but more than that, I knew the feelings of the woman at the window who was watching everyone else frolic and play as she stood by and watched. I knew what it was to spend my time imagining that I was joining in the fun, but was instead merely watching from behind the blinds.

This poem came to mind earlier this week as I was paddling alone in the Back Bay. I started reciting it in my mind (having committed it to memory long ago). I smiled at the fact that I’m no longer standing by and longing to leap in the water. Having an amphibious prosthetic limb has made me able to move in and out of the water with ease.

Twenty-eight young men bathe by the shore,
Twenty-eight young men and all so friendly;
Twenty-eight years of womanly life and all so lonesome.
She owns the fine house by the rise of the bank,
She hides handsome and richly drest aft the blinds of the window.
Which of the young men does she like the best?
Ah the homeliest of them is beautiful to her.
Where are you off to, lady? for I see you,
You splash in the water there, yet stay stock still in your room.
Dancing and laughing along the beach came the twenty-ninth bather,
The rest did not see her, but she saw them and loved them.
The beards of the young men glisten’d with wet, it ran from their long hair,
Little streams pass’d all over their bodies.
An unseen hand also pass’d over their bodies,
It descended tremblingly from their temples and ribs.
The young men float on their backs, their white bellies bulge to the sun,
they do not ask who seizes fast to them,
They do not know who puffs and declines with pendant and bending arch,
They do not think whom they souse with spray.

–Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, sec 11 in Leaves of Grass bk ii (1855)

*While I was looking for an electronic version of this poem, I happened upon this site, which pairs the poem with Eakins’ painting “The Swimming Hole.” John just happened to look over my shoulder at that very moment and got a good giggle out of my surreptitious viewing of nekkid men.

Previous Mary Monday postings

Mary Monday: venting & poetry

Yesterday I posted a crowdsourced parody of the “12 Days of Christmas” song entitled “The 12 Woes of the Quarter” to the History Compass blog. It addresses some specific grievances from those of us grad students who’re struggling through the UC financial crisis. You might want to take a look. 🙂

Last night I attended an event that showcased various forms of e-literature, including much e-poetry. I was particularly taken by the work of David Jhave Johnston, and encourage you to spend some time perusing the work on his site and watching the piece below…(yes, I know it’s all wonky in the sizing, but hopefully it’ll all work anyways).

And then, as I walked home all full of poetry (and mango sticky rice–yum!) late last night, I became enchanted by the shadows cast by my own legs as I passed under streetlights. I was wearing a shortish a-line skirt that seemed to complement the asymmetrical shapes of my left and right legs. As the legs stretched out in the shadows, they looked rather like doll-legs. It was so strange to see them and feel as though they were a piece of art that was not connected to me. With my cameraphone I snapped one blurry picture, to share when I was feeling in that moment…

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