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?from New and Selected Poems, 1992
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?
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
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
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 knowingfrom American Primitive, 1983
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
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.