Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver

R.S. Thomas, This To Do

I have this that I must do
One day: overdraw on my balance
Of air, and breaking the surface
Of water go down into the green
Darkness to search for the door
To myself in dumbness and blindness
And uproar of scared blood
At the eardrums. There are no signposts
There but bones of the dead
Conger, no light but the pale
Phosphorous, where the slow corpses
Swag. I must go down with the poor
Purse of my body and buy courage,
Paying for it with the coins of my breath.

Derek Walcott, Earth

Let the day grow on you upward
through your feet,
the vegetal knuckles,

to your knees of stone,
until by evening you are a black tree;
feel, with evening,

the swifts thicken your hair,
the new moon rising out of your forehead,
and the moonlit veins of silver

running from your armpits
like rivulets under white leaves.
Sleep, as ants

cross over your eyelids.
You have never possessed anything
as deeply as this.

This is all you have owned
from the first outcry
through forever;

you can never be dispossessed.

Derek Walcott

Robert Ashley, The Backyard

Transcription of the words from Robert Ashley’s ‘The Backyard’, side 2 of Private Parts, released on Lovely Music, 1978. The piece, with minor alterations, later became part of Ashley’s opera Perfect Lives. Lifted wholesale from MandrewB’s tumblr.

The Backyard by Robert Ashley

She makes a double life.
She makes two from one and one.
She makes a perfect system every day.
She makes it work.
She stands there in the doorway of her mother’s house
looking at the grass and sky and at where they meet,
never once thinking thoughts like
“It’s so like a line”,
or “the difference is so powerful”,
or “Which way shall I take to leave?”
My mind turns to my breath, one.
My mind watches my breath, two.
My mind turns and watches my breath, three.
My mind turns and faces my breath, four.
My mind faces my breath, five.
My mind studies my breath, six.
My mind sees every aspect of the beauty of my breath, seven.
My mind watches my breath soothing itself, eight
My mind sees every part of my breath, nine.
My breath is not indifferent to itself, ten.
She never thinks of possibility
or of how probable it is that they have come together.
Those thoughts never enter her mind.
Nor do thoughts of sports.
She has no desire to improve her muscles.
For her, piano playing is the only mystery.
It’s so beautiful, and how they do it no-one knows.
She gets catalogues of every sort in the mail.
Everything imaginable is pictured.
She finds her way among the pictures without hesitation.
She is not afraid of happiness.
She is entirely without shame.
The numbers are made of rubber or something like that.
They stretch.
They never lose their shape.
They are ageless.
They don’t need repair.
They need attention and respect.
She thinks about two things that I know of.
One is elevation and that comes clothed in light, so to speak.
She loathes the dark.
She sleeps in light.
She likes highness.
Four thousand one hundred twenty-eight feet here.
Four thousand two hundred eighteen feet there.
And the body of the house itself.
Fourteen dollars and twenty-eight cents here.
Forty-eight dollars and twelve cents there.
The other is proportions.
Coincidence isn’t a mystery to her.
The margin’s always wide enough.
Forty-two or forty with twenty is always sixty-two or sixty.
And I mean forty-two with twenty can be sixty as well as sixty-two.
And the other way around.
Just as ten and twenty can be thirty-two or thirty
Or twelve and twenty can be thirty.
She stands there in the doorway of her mother’s house
and thinks these thoughts.
That fourteen dollars and twenty-eight cents is more at attractive than fourteen dollars because of the twenty-eight.
No-one likes or dislikes zeros.
And that forty-two or forty is fixed in some way.
She thinks about her father’s age.
She does the calculation one more time.
She remembers sixty-two.
Thirty and some number is sixty-two.
And that number with ten is forty-two.
She remembers forty-two.
“Remembers” is the wrong word.
She dwells on forty-two.
She turns and faces it.
She watches.
She studies it.
It is the key.
The mystery of the balances is there.
The Masonic secret lies there.
The church forbids its angels entry there.
The gypsies camp there.
Blood is exchanged there.
Mothers weep there.
It is night there.
Thirty and some number is sixty-two.
And that number with ten is forty-two.
That number translates now to then.
That number is the answer, in the way that numbers answer.
That simple notion, a coincidence among coincidences is all one
needs to know.
My mind turns to my breath.
My mind watches my breath.
My mind turns and watches my breath.
My mind turns and faces my breath.
My mind faces my breath.
My mind studies my breath.
My mind sees every aspect of the beauty of my breath.
My mind watches my breath soothing itself.
My mind sees every part of my breath.
My breath is not indifferent to itself.
She waked at ten.
She remembers ten.
She left the dark at ten.
She waked in light.
So forty-two or forty or forty-four is fixed.
Fourteen dollars and twenty-eight cents is more attractive than fourteen dollars.
It’s just that way.
The firmness of it is a consolation.

Three men had loved her.
One a decade on the average.
Uncertainties are wrong.
In this scene there is one shot.
Giordano Bruno comes to mind, whoever he is.
She is in the doorway of her mother’s house.
She faces south.
We see it two ways.
First is the house behind her and the great Northern constellations.
She looks away from difference and discrepancy.
Magnetic north, true north, the north star path…
It’s too like the calculations.
Except that ten and forty-two are fixed together.
We are looking west.
She is on the right edge of the shot.
She is Earth.
We are the sun.
People are gathered in the backyard.
This is the celebration of the changing of the light.
They do it as often as they can in summer.
They come to talk.
They pass the time.
They sooth their thoughts with lemonade.
They say things like:
“She never had a stitch that she could call her own, poor thing”.
And, “Carl’s still president over at the bank, ain’t he?”
And, “Now if I was doing it…”
And, “She didn’t cook much, never really had the time, you know”.
And, “I wouldn’t say that, not at all”.
They are the planets in this scheme of things.
Giordano Bruno’s shot.
The problem is the arc.
The changing angle of the shot.
It defies geometry.
The drawings of a geocentric solar system, when we meet them in the books, make us avert our eyes.
Heresy is heresy.
We make one great, weird curve from the east edge of the backyard,
looking west –
She is on the right edge of the shot –
across, following the equator of the backyard, to the west edge,
looking east.
Now she is on the left edge.
At some point, midway, we face,
both looking at the center.
The center is between us.
Except that for the purpose of the shot, or in the interests of economy,
she doesn’t move.
She is standing in the doorway of her mother’s house.
The doorway to the back porch.
The backyard is the south.
Behind her the great northern constellation rises in the majesty
of its architecture.
Well, maybe that’s a little too much.
Let’s just say that contradictions are behind her.
And in the backyard, god, this set of circumstances
that is indescribable with our geometry.
A picnic of sorts.
A celebration of the changing of the light.
And we glide through that chaos, facing her,
watching her,
studying her.
Not circling her, remember.
Circling, but not circling her.
She is circling.
We are circling.
Now she is on the left edge.
Caught still in her accounting of those three decades silently.
She is so beautiful.
A pre-industrial equation.
God, this is sentimental.
This is the hour of the mystery of the barn swallows.
One, where do they go in daytime?
Two, do they never rest?
Three, when you buy them in the store, made in China, on the end of strings
they do exactly what they do alive.
Four, how is that possible?
The idea of the changing center is not in anything we make.
Our toys run down.
On the other hand, of course, the Chinese are said to not take pictures.
At least not of the outside.
Six of one, two times three of one, five plus one of one,
nine minus three of one, half a dozen of another.
It would be perfect if, as we made the great curve
through the heavens of the backyard,
providentially or accidentally, depending on
your point of view, each of the planets would move exactly
in the path and at the speed and with the purpose
of the expression of the other idea.
Maybe that’s too much to wish.

Giordano Bruno.
I think they burned him.
He was too positive.
Fight fire with fire.
In this shot he is wrong about the larger order, whatever that means.
There is just the sun and earth and some center that they share.
All other facts in this heaven,
One has climbed a tree,
Two are eating watermelon,
One always says it’s getting late,
One succeeded at the plant,
One works at the bank,
The specialists.
They are just straight lines seen wrong.
Sundown, one, the time it disappears.
Gloaming, two, the twilight, dusk.
Crepuscule, the twilight, three, the half-light.
Twilight, four, pale purplish blue to pale violet, lighter than dusk blue.
Civil twilight, until the sun is up to six degrees below horizon
enough light on clear days for ordinary occupations.
Nautical twilight, until the sun is up to twelve degrees below horizon.
Astronomical twilight, until the sun is eighteen degrees down,
more or less.
Clair de lune, five, greener and paler than dusk.
Dusk, six, redder and darker than clair de lune.
Dear George,
What’s going on?
I’m not the same person that I used to be.

Richard Wilbur, Mayflies

In somber forest, when the sun was low,
I saw from unseen pools a mist of flies,
In their quadrillions rise,
And animate a ragged patch of glow,
With sudden glittering –as when a crowd,
Of stars appear,
Through a brief gap in black and driven cloud,
One arc of their great round-dance showing clear.

It was no muddled swarm I witnessed, for
In entrechats each fluttering insect there
Rose two steep yards in air,
Then slowly floated down to climb once more,
So that they all composed a manifold
And figured scene,
And seemed the weavers of some cloth of gold,
Or the fine pistons of some bright machine.

Watching those lifelong dancers of a day
As night closed in, I felt myself alone
In a life too much my own,
More mortal in my separateness than they–
Unless, I thought, I had been called to be
Not fly or star
But one whose task is joyfully to see
How fair the fiats of the caller are.

Richard Wilbur