Everyday Poetry

Earlier this month I took the opportunity to have a fantastic lunch at Bone Garden Cantina with my dear friend Troy. We had been threatening to catch up since prior to last Thanksgiving but some combination of parental duties and holidays got in the way every time. Thankfully we had a sunny, crisp January afternoon to reminisce and reacquaint after a prolonged absence.

Troy is what some would call an “old soul” but I always think of him as a Renaissance man. He loves denim, Auburn, photography, and his kids. He can hold court on the topic of live-streaming video, but is equally comfortable sharing his favorite verse – from song or poetry – he enjoys good beer, and is a fantastic dancer.

In the extended run-up to our reunion, I was reminded of a poem Troy would quote during the introspective stretches of our March Madness tenure. They were the last two lines of The Summer Day by Mary Oliver.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA
Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver

The stories we shared that afternoon were reminders of how we were both dealing with our wild and precious lives in ways that were at once similar, but also worlds apart. Troy has had to deal with some immense loss and change over the last 3 pandemic years, and I guess I have too. It felt cathartic and holy to share that space and those stories, but I wouldn’t betray any confidences by sharing them here, only to note that this is why we are friends: we can easily shift from the sublime to the ridiculous over a basket of tortilla chips and some craft beer.

The lunch was all too brief but it did remind me to renew my library card and check out a book of Mary Oliver’s poetry. Here’s a new one (to me) in a similar vein to Troy’s that I hope you’ll also enjoy.

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

from American Primitive, 1983
Copyright Back Bay Books
by Mary Oliver

I hope everyone will take time this year to cherish their friendships and to read some poetry (Troy and I would both suggest Mary Oliver). The world needs more of both friendships and poetry; now, more than ever.

Let’s Do Lunch

At the start of 2020 I reached out to a friend and former coworker to ask about getting lunch sometime soon. The idea was borne simply out of a desire to talk to him in person after so much time apart. We’d had an ill-fated Fall where we’d each scheduled and then cancelled on numerous attempts, so a new year provided a perfect re-starting point.

I’m not even close to the first person to use January as a reminder to reach back out to old friends, but this person and this time jumped into my head almost unbidden.

I shouldn’t have been surprised then that the answer came back emphatically and almost instantly: yes, let’s have lunch next week.

It also shouldn’t be a surprise that the instant we actually saw one another at the restaurant (Mexican, naturally, as we could both eat it every day) my friend launched into almost twenty uninterrupted minutes of monologue. He had so much news to impart, so many wild, wonderful adventures and perilous accidents, that I think I ate an entire basket of chips before I even attempted to get a word in edgewise.

Now I should clarify that this is a person I respect immensely both personally and professionally. I follow their social media, I stalk their LinkedIn, I somewhat frequently text them about how things are going. And I knew none of what he shared. Not a single word.

My first contribution to our conversation was to ask more about his family and I learned even more that was unseen in all his blog posts, tweets, texts, and status updates. Here was someone like myself whose 2019 had seen tons of upheaval and change and pain. Someone who was being strong because he had to be strong. There was no other choice. Is there ever?

I gave him some headlines about my folks, my dad, my in-laws, and Owen, most of which I’ve shared here, but some of which I haven’t. I think it was all news to him, but I could see his demeanor change. It wasn’t exactly misery loving company, because I’m far from miserable, but my wounds are still somewhat fresh and healing. Maybe it was warriors telling battle stories and comparing scars. Or maybe I’m being dramatic and it was just two men bonding over lunch about their lives.

Aside from a very eager waitstaff it was the nicest lunch I’ve had in some time. Real conversation with a real person about real life. Nothing staged for a camera or audience; nothing performative for a response. Just the full three dimensions of 2019 reflected in the hopeful haze of 2020.

We talked for more than an hour and ate our burritos. We left with a handshake and a promise for future lunches, but I can’t help feeling like the natural outcome should’ve been a hug. Not that he needed one, but I needed to give one. To tell him everything would be ok, but also to tell myself. To remind myself that here in the real world real connections matter and that I should spend 2020 pulling myself out of my phone and into the real world. To engage fully and directly with my life by living it; by doing.

I hope he reads this notes and knows that I love him as a friend and I’m pulling for him in all facets of his life. And even if he doesn’t read this, I’m glad I wrote it. I’m pulling for me too. I want to be this person who has more lunches and talks more truth.

I want to hug and be hugged. I want 2020 to be a great year.

I’d love to have lunch with you, too. You know where to message me.