“In Blackwater Woods” Mary Oliver Mondays

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
to let it go.
Mary Oliver “In Blackwater Woods”

This last week has been gritting my teeth and steeping. Waiting on the sidelines to see what comes next and then bend my head against the wind and push forward.

One step at a time.

I lost my words somewhere on Tuesday? Wednesday? The just kind of flew away from me like little dandelion seed pods. Wind just blew through the forest of lacy parachutes. Up and away.

Good-bye words

Hello Monday.

Today, we are walking through Mary Oliver’s “In Blackwater Woods” (hyperlink in the title); today, I am feeling the edges of my bones and how they are interlaced with my emotional sinew. Tendons of happiness, sadness, determination, anxiety are peeled over my heavy, white, marrow-filled bones and make the joints creak. The fingers eddy across the keyboard. Cling to the vaporous words that fled me last week.

The poem begins with trees (duh…look at the title Graceless). As Oliver’s speaker walks through the woods, the trees are bursting into color, the autumnal season is rife within the woods and along the water’s bank. The speaker analyzes how

“the trees

are turning

their own bodies

into pillars

of light,”

And further along, “the cattails are bursting and floating away over/the blue shoulders/of the ponds…”

This last Saturday, winter’s cold settled and nestled deep over my home. 17 degrees in the morning with the wind chill registering at 12. Long cold nights and the wind shoving my back door open. I curled up in a ball in my comfy chair and burrowed under blankets and my fleece, Cruella Deville inspired bathrobe (black and white like dalmatians). I huddled in my world and stared blankly at Youtube videos my husband clicked through and ignored as he scrolled on his iPad.

The world felt just so cold in the hollow days and nights.

“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.”

-Mary Oliver “In Blackwater Woods.”

I am living in cycles of loss right now. As things shift and change along the lines of my family, my friends, connections sever. A thread frays and snaps. I stand in the unyielding time and watch the receding figure. The disintegration into sand.

Every year, I go and undergo through the days. Feel their weight squeeze my shoulders before sliding away, siphon into the distance. Memory becomes soft, pliable. Massage the rigid angles into rounded corners. Harvest the pain. Ease the laughter that belies the grief.

I feel Oliver’s yearly analysis, this moment of stopping and assessing. Of looking back and seeing how what has been learned and experienced through life is merely reaped into the sense of meaninglessness. An existential quandary. I have held on to so many bits and pieces. Carved them into ill-shaped, ill-fitting puzzle pieces that I cram together.

This is me. This is my meaning. This is who I am right now. And all my broken pieces will yield suppleness, will bleed silence and breed joy, even in grief.

In so many ways, I feel like Oliver is conjuring the River Styx berthed within Dante’s Inferno. Yet I will ignore the warning carved above the entrance. I will not abandon hope. Even as I have entered, I have my hope.

For in the last stanzas, I am reminded of the bounty of my existence.

“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


to let it go.”

-Mary Oliver “In Blackwater Woods”

I cling. I clutch. I wrap my gnarled, knuckly fingers tightly around it. He. Him. Them. Her. She. You.

Choose a pronoun. A noun. A verb. An abstraction. An action.

I grab and tightly wrap whatever and whoever close to my chest. I rock a little, like I am still carrying one of my children when they were infants. Hold them against me. Feel their spidery heartbeat spindle-throb against my own.

I am learning to release. To open my hands and read the lines in my palms as whoever or whatever flees. Or dissipates. Or settles into the breeze. Like a dandelion parachuted seed.

A wish. A dream. A life.

Loss interconnected with existence.

I take the memory. The moment. Remember. Release it like a pebble burbling down into pond. And let the water eddy back into stillness.

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