from One or Two Things

For years and years I struggled
just to love my life. And then

the butterfly
rose, weightless, in the wind.
‘Don’t love your life
too much,’ it said,

and vanished
into the world.

Mary Oliver


A Visitor

My father, for example,
who was young once
and blue-eyed,
on the darkest of nights
to the porch and knocks
wildly at the door
and if I answer
I must be prepared
for his waxy face,
for his lower lip
swollen with bitterness.
And so, for a long time,
I did not answer,
but slept fitfully
between his hours of rapping.
But finally there came the night
when I rose out of my sheets
and stumbled down the hall.
The door fell open

and I knew I was saved
and could bear him,
pathetic and hollow,
with even the least of his dreams
frozen inside him,
and the meanness gone.
And I greeted him and asked him
into the house,
and lit the lamp
and looked into his blank eyes
in which at last
I saw what a child must love,
I saw what love might have done
had we loved in time.

Mary Oliver

Blacksmith Shop

I like the bellows operated by rope.

A hand or foot pedal – I don’t remember which.

But that blowing, and the blazing of the fire!

And a piece of iron on the fire, held there by tongs,

Red, softened for the anvil,

Beaten with a hammer, bent into a horseshoe,

Thrown into a bucked of water, sizzle, steam.


And horses hitched to be shod,

Tossing their manes; and in the grass by the river

Plowshares, sledge runners, harrows waiting for repair


At the entrance, my bare feet on the dirt floor,

Here, gusts of heat; at my back, white clouds.

I stare and stare.  It seems I was called for this:

To glorify things just because they are.


Czeslaw Milosz

In My Middle Years

In my middle years I became fond of the Way
And made my home in the foothills of South Mountain.
When the spirit moves me I go off by myself
To see things I alone must see.
I follow the stream to its source,
And sitting there, watch for the moment
When clouds rise up. Or I may meet a woodsman;
We talk and laugh and forget about going home.

Wang Wei

(trans. Tenshin Reb Anderson)

I Would Like to Describe

I would like to describe the simplest emotion
joy or sadness
but not as others do
reaching for shafts of rain or sun

I would like to describe a light
which is being born in me
but I know it does not resemble
any star
for it is not so bright
not so pure
and it is uncertain

I would like to describe courage
without dragging behind me a dusty lion
and also anxiety
without shaking a glass full of water

to put it another way
I would give all the metaphors
in return for one word
drawn out of my breast like a rib
for one word
contained within the boundaries
of my skin
but apparently this is not possible

and just to say – I love
I run around like mad
picking up handfuls of birds
and my tenderness
which after all is not made of water
asks the water for a face

and anger
different from fire
borrows from it
a loquacious tongue

so is blurred
so is blurred
in me
what white haired gentlemen
separated once and for all
and said
this the subject
and this is the object

we fall asleep
with one hand under our head
and with the other in a mound of planets

our feet abandon us
and taste the earth
with their tiny roots
which next morning
we tear out painfully

Zbigniew Herbert

(trans. Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott)