Today in anticipation of April and National Poetry Month I read a collection of poems and essays by Mary Oliver called The Truro Bear and Other Adventures. The small volume contains many old favorites but introduces several new poems I've not encountered in other collections of Mary Oliver's works before. Whenever I read her poetry I am always struck by how she hides little gems with in her poems. I think I am reading about one thing and then she slips in a thought about death, or finding meaning, or relationships. For example in the poem "Five A.M. in the Pinewoods" she talks of following hoofprints into the forest and actually encountering two beasts (deer? elk?). It was such a lovely experience it seemed like a dream. Then she slips in these lines: I was thinking / so this is how you swim inward, / so this is how you flow outward, / so this is how you pray. She had a holy and spiritual experience I hadn't realized until I read these lines.
In the poem "The Gift" the poet finds a shell called a Neptune. She holds it and imagines all the wonderful travels it has taken under the sea. Then these lines remind us that everything dies, but we can leave beauty behind: Ah yes, there was / that door/ that held only the eventual, inevitable / emptiness. // There's that--there's always that. / Still, what a house / to leave behind.
Another profound poem, "Alligator Poem", reminds me to be thankful for second chances. The poet thinks she is a goner as an alligator (in Florida) charges right at her as she slips and falls she is surprised to see the reptile continue on and jump into the water on a different mission. ...and in the end, / this isn't a poem about foolishness / but about how I rose from the ground / and saw the world as if for the second time, the way it really is.
An old favorite, "The Summer Day" tells of how the poet passes a summer day outside enjoying nature. I don't know what a prayer is. / I do know how to pay attention... / Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? The poet reminds us to pay attention and not to squander any of the precious gifts we have been given.
The last thirteen poems in the collection are "Percy" poems about her favorite little dog, Percy, named for the poet. As I read and delighted in them, my dog Bingley had finally resorted to sleeping at my feet after asking for attention earlier. The poem "Percy Speaks While I Am Doing Taxes" caused me to drop the book and head out for a walk with the dog. The poet, busy with her spreadsheets of numbers, assures Percy she won't be working on this taxes forever. To which Percy replies: Keep me in your thoughts, he replies. Just because / I can't count to ten doesn't mean / I don't remember yesterday, or anticipate today. / I give you one more hour, then we step out / into the beautiful, money-deaf gift of the world / and run.
On that note, I think it is time to wrap up this review and call for Bingley to join me for a nice long walk on this Spring day.