You Do Not Have To Be Good

I get to read three Mary Oliver poems tonight at a celebration for the late poet. It was hard to choose which ones I wanted to read because it every poem available I found a premise that spoke personally to me.

Last night as I was researching the poems suggested by organizer (and artist of my heart) Susan Kruegar-Barber I was reminded of how much I owe to poets as a healers. Poetry has been an elixir I reserve for desperation, or intense passion--like a wise old friend who comes along to cuddle me in my mania or alleviate my depression.

In this process I paused to put Ever to bed. Ever has a mind like mine, one that has an active imagination and is plagued at times by curiosity.

"Sometimes I think about how sad I am going to be when Grandma or Grandpa dies," she told me as we lied on our stomachs on her peacock-themed bed. Her pink night lights were casting a rosey glow throughout the room and her lullaby playlist sang "Blackbird" from the iPod on the dresser. Everything was all right in that moment, except our imaginations.

"I remember when my Grandma died," I told her, "I was twelve and it was really sad for me too. She was the first person really close to me that I had lost."

Then I realized it was the death of my beloved Nana that inspired me to start writing poetry as a means of working out my personal feelings. In a fabric-covered journal I wrote stanzas and words and sometimes I drew little pictures to illustrate my discoveries. I wrote a lot as a kid, stories of adventures and some times poems about liberty or America, but this was the first time I wrote what I was feeling. Her death birthed something in me-- the unexpected gift of personal expression, something that I would keep forever.

"Nana's death introduced me to writing poetry," I told Ever who is a gifted writer at eight years old. "Since then, I've always used poetry and personal essay to work my way through life. You have that special ability too."

"Did your Nana write poetry too?" she asked.

"Yes, she wrote poetry." I replied.

"So it's in my blood?"

"Yes, it's in your blood. It's your power."

I think the possibility of discovering hidden powers inside the magnitude of emotions--grief, loss, love, joy--helped direct her imagination and she rolled over and fell asleep.

If there is anything hopeful about death, it's the rebirth left behind in its trail of loss. And for me, that rebirth is always words.

I never read that pre-teen book of passionate poetry. It sits in a basket high on a shelf in our bonus room.Volumes of hand-written journals I've kept since I was eight keep it company. I can't not seem to revisit any of those books. But maybe it's time I offer them to my daughter--so she can reach across time and discover that I once was eight, full of thoughts that sometimes totally ran away with me?

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 (from Wild Geese)

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