It’s day 6 of National Poetry Month, and this morning I put an end to Mr. Bellis’s poem per day. I felt bad, but – and I only talk to you these days, you and Mr. Bellis a little bit; haven’t called Gretchen; haven’t seen Jerry Randy on my walk-abouts …. It’s lonely here, don’t you think? And there’s a certain quiet to this early spring, like I move a little slower in the morning, like the earth and I are waking up at the same pace. Slowly.
Mr. Bellis started right in on the poetry this morning – and I’m glad he did, he left me a good poem, I’ll read it to you – and I didn’t have the heart to stop him right then, he was beaming like sunshine itself, and I let it shine before I pulled the curtains, cuz sometimes the sun is too bright, and I want to wake up or live at my own pace, maybe in the shade for a little bit, wait until I’m ready for the full sun. But not Mr. Bellis.
“I can’t get enough of Mary Oliver, these days,” he exclaimed. “She’s the one I read to you yesterday, the encounter with the deer in the woods. Now this one’s got other ungulates in it,” he told me, “this one’s got the humble cow, and it’s about the even more humble lily.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Bellis” – and I was deciding right then how to pull the curtain closed, but the sunshine was enticing, too, and sometimes you need that warmth, so I left the curtains open a crack, just enough to ask, “did you say ‘lily?’”
I always thought I had such a plain life – our village is such a quaint little place, y’know? – but I’m beginning to think we live in an extraordinary place, or these are extraordinary times …. Listen to this poem he gave me today – and I eventually told him this should be the last one, but I thought I might as well hear this last one, and, here, you ought to hear it, too. It’s called “Lilies” and it’s by Mary Oliver:
“I have been thinking
like the lilies
that blow in the fields.
They rise and fall
in the edge of the wind,
and have no shelter
from the tongues of the cattle,
and have no closets or cupboards,
and have no legs.
Still I would like to be
as the old idea.
But if I were a lily
I think I would wait all day
for the green face
of the hummingbird
to touch me.
What I mean is,
could I forget myself
even in those feathery fields?
When Van Gogh
preached to the poor
of course he wanted to save someone–
most of all himself.
He wasn’t a lily,
and wandering through the bright fields
only gave him more ideas
it would take his life to solve.
I think I will always be lonely
in this world, where the cattle
graze like a black and white river–
where the vanishing lilies
melt, without protest, on their tongues–
where the hummingbird, whenever there is a fuss,
just rises and floats away.”
I want to float away. Dear Lord, don’t you want to float away sometimes? Just escape it all – the pain, the confusion, the bad memories, nightmares, sleepless nights …. Wouldn’t it be something to just melt away? Like the winter lake ice, just dissolve into water. Like butter on hotcakes, just melt into a syrupy sweetness, be someone else’s breakfast … but it’s not that simple. I can’t just melt away after all my sins …. And Lilly-Anne, I don’t know what she’s done wrong, but she can’t just float away, no way, your world changes when you have a child to take care of, there’s no floating anymore, it’s sink or swim.
But there I was with Mr. Bellis – sunrise, pine woods, our thawed spring lake, and Mary Oliver’s poetry in the air.
“Mr. Bellis, I can’t get quite enough Mary Oliver these days also, but … I’m sorry, but I can’t deal with a poem a day, I’m sorry, I’m just getting all sorts of things confused in my head, I mean, I do … I mean, I really do think there’s something magical about Mary Oliver’s poetry, but … Mr. Bellis …”
And he saved me, kind Mr. Bellis just put a hand on my shoulder and didn’t ask anything, with my mumbles and murmurations, he quieted my mind a bit by saying,
“Dear Ms. Marquetta, I’m afraid I’ve upset you. I do apologize. I will leave you with a book of poetry—Mary Oliver’s even—and you can read it when the time is right for you. I do apologize. Please, my dear, have a blessed day.”