Tuesday, June 18, 2013

TUESDAY POEM | Singapore by Mary Oliver

Yesterday I participated in an online webinar; fantastic to connect up with people all over the globe, each person committed to being there, no matter our radically different time zones (3.00PM in New Zealand was 3.00AM in Finland!). One of the presenters was Heidi Rose Robbins, a poet and esoteric astrologer who lives in California. I have featured her writing on Tuesday Poem before. Yesterday, Heidi read a couple of poems to the assembled gathering, amongst them this one by Mary Oliver. 


                   In Singapore, in the airport,
                   a darkness was ripped from my eyes.
                   In the women's restroom, one compartment stood open.
                   A woman knelt there, washing something in the white bowl.

                   Disgust argued in my stomach
                   and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket.

                   A poem should always have birds in it.
                   Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings.
                   River are pleasant, and of course trees.
                   A waterfall, or if that's not possible, a fountain rising and
                   A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.

                   When the woman turned I could not answer her face.
                   Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and
                   neither could win.
                   She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this?
                   Everybody needs a job.

                   Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.
                   But first we must watch her as she stares down at her labor,
                   which is dull enough.
                   she is washing the tops of the airport ashtrays, as big as
                   hubcaps, with a blue rag.
                   Her small hands turn the metal, scrubbing and rinsing.
                   She does not work slowly, nor quickly, but like a river.
                   Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird.
                   I don't doubt for a moment that she loves her life.
                   And I want her to rise up from the crust and the slop and
                   fly down to the river.
                   This probably won't happen.
                   But maybe it will.
                   If the world were only pain and logic, who would want it?

                   Of course, it isn't.
                   Neither do I mean anything miraculous, but only
                   the light that can shine out of a life. I mean
                   the way she unfolded and refolded the blue cloth,
                   the way her smile was only for my sake; I mean
                   the way this poem is filled with trees, and birds.

                   Mary Oliver


This week's editor on the hub is TP founder/curator Mary McCallum
with Palmy
by Melbourne-based Kiwi poet Jennifer Compton
Visit Jen's wonderfully allusive/elusive Tapa Notebook pages here

Mary writes of Palmy - "I think this poem is an audacious piece of work and a hugely satisfying read for the huge, at times, eccentric swoops it takes - like the Quixotic arms of the wind farm. From a whiff of perfume to the lie of the land - from the past living in the present and, the tentative secret joy of that, or not, and therefore a roaming grief - and some fantastic images that have stayed with me since I first heardPalmy read, especially the absent trees, the baffled winds, the benevolent wind farms ...

Tonight, behind the necklace of glittering lights below, is the darkness
which is the hills. Upon them, when it is light, like many crucifixions,
the wind farm. Then the long, ungainly arms swoop and seem to bless.
I will admit, to you, that I have found Palmerston North disconcerting. . .
          Jennifer Compton


  1. I think this is really a lovely poem filled with compassion and beauty. It doesn't condescend, it recognises and it wishes for a world somewhat more uplifting and beautiful than the one we inhabit.

    Thanks for posting this poem, Claire.

  2. The lack of condescension is what I appreciate in it, too, Andrew. Mary Oliver beautifully acknowledges the dignity inherent in every human being and in the most humble yet essential of everyday tasks.

    Thanks for coming by. My house is very quiet these days.

    Hope you're keeping warm and dry and safe in Chch. It's sleeting and squally down here.

  3. I love the observations in this piece, how completely human and close it feels. That last stanza, with the folding and refolding of the blue cloth, is wonderful.