It happened that we read a poem together—me and the kids—about the landscape. But also, as poems go, about so much more.
Esme picked it from a glass jar, on the front desk at the library, marked "Poetry: For Adults." The jar sat next to its twin which held poems for children.
She picked a Langston Hughes number from the children's one the day before. She's on the cusp of 8 these days: about to finish second grade, handily devouring books bigger than her head in a night's span, skipping rungs on the monkey bars and so full of big girl that she jauntily plucked a folded sheet of paper from the grown-up jar.
"That one is for adults," the librarian explained.
"I know," she said, and picked it anyway.
"Isn't it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about
spiritual patience? Isn't it clear
the black oaks along the path are standing
as though they were the most fragile of flowers?"
She read aloud as we walked home along the sidewalk and she didn't stop to breathe, not once. So that one sentence bled into the other and another and the meaning was not just muddled. It was lost.
She read the words. But not the poem. Like we rush through life and neglect the living.
Our week was a good one, with long afternoons outside at the park and our first barefoot day. There were weeds to pick. And seeds to plant. Games to watch and poems to unfold.
The kids gathered around me at the dinner table strewn with dirty plates and I read the poem again, pausing to talk about each line, sometimes each word.
"Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close, I am as good as dead.
Every morning, so far, I'm alive. And now
the crows break off from the rest of the darkness
and burst up into the sky — as though
all night they had thought of what they would like
their lives to be, and imagined
their strong, thick wings."
And it's true, Mary Oliver. It's true. We shared a week of play as simple as the plainest sheets of moss. We read books in the setting sun and logged mileage on walks to and from our parks. But goddam if it didn't make my heart explode with light to share such wonder with them. I am as good as dead, I am, if it ever fails to move me.
Excerpts from the poem, "Landscape," by Mary Oliver. You can read the entire poem here.