Who is on the plum tree?
I am very happy to introduce another new wonderful poet and writer to the plum tree. Victoria Slotto also writes for the Bardo Group. One of those fine minds, she writes with thought and deep care .I am sure you will enjoy her insights into Mary Oliver. Great to have you here, Victoria.
Even those of us prone to optimism experience down days, difficult challenges, worries and moments of depression. When these clouds settle on me, I turn to poetry, particularly the poetry of Mary Oliver, to lift my spirit. It is, rather, that which underlies her work that serves as a natural antidepressant: nature and spirituality.
A recipient of both the Pulitzer Prize for Literature and the National Book Award, Oliver was born in 1935 in Ohio. She began writing poetry at age 14 and continues to this day, acclaimed by the New York Times as America’s best-selling poet. At a young age she discovered the work of Edna St. Vincent Millay and spent seven years almost living in her home, thanks to the friendship she developed with the poet’s sister. Eventually she moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts where she resided with her now-deceased life partner, Molly Malone Cook. A private person by nature, she largely declines to be interviewed, but her views and the source of her inspiration are able to be unearthed in her poetry.
Here is an imaginary interview that I put into poetic form, borrowing short excerpts from her work:
Hot Chocolate and Mary
The leaves of an elm splash
dappled sunlight on the forest
floor. A chill lingers in the
air so we share hot chocolate
from a thermos, pour the creamy
liquid into insulated mugs.
Age does not prevent her
from sprawling on the earth
she loves so passionately.
She leans against the tree’s
stout trunk, says, “I’m yours.”
My mouth is dry like when
the dentist stuffs it full of
cotton rolls. Disbelief numbs
me till she laughs—a sound
as real as songs of her beloved
birds that sing their prayers
in unison from the surrounding
branches and marshy meadows.
“I’m yours,” she says again,
reminding me I’m here to do
the interview I’ve wished for,
nurtured in my imagination
since I discovered her.
“Your life,” I coax, knowing
that a single word suffices.
As for myself
I swung the door open and there was
The wordless singing world. And I ran for my life.
“You ran to it?”
“Yes, immersed myself in beauty.”
While on and on the sparrow sings.
“And aging? If you don’t mind, that is.”
In the deep fall, don’t you imagine the leaves think
how comfortable it will be to touch
…and what shall I wish for myself but,
being so struck by the lightning of years
to (spend) with what is left, loving.
time enough for all the wonderful things
I could think of to do
In a single day…
“If you could choreograph your death?”
…Maybe on a midsummer night’s eve,
And without fanfare.
So it is
if the heart has devoted itself to love, there is
not a single inch of emptiness. Gladness gleams
all the way to the grave.
If there’s a temple, I haven’t found it yet,
I simply go on drifting, in the heaven of grass
and the weeds.
She takes her leave.
I watch her walk across the fields,
stopping to listen
or to follow the flight of a heron.
She’s alone now
with Percy her dog
and memories of having lived well.
(Author’s note: since I penned this earlier this year, Mary has lost her canine companion, Percy.)
Oliver’s ability to pierce the depth of the human condition is clearly the result of her ability to observe nature intently and to deduct the lessons found therein. She is microscopic in her attention to detail and understands how this applies to all phases of the life cycle. As she ages, her wisdom grows and she seems to embrace, even welcome, life’s transience with acceptance.
If her work is not familiar to you, I hope you will invite her in to your reading experience. Check her out at Amazon.com or your local bookstore.