Wild words

What more could I do with wild words?” — Mary Oliver

I’m a cat lover and a morning person, so Mary Oliver‘s “Morning” spoke to me the first time I read it. And each time I revisit the poem, something else strikes me.

Last week, for instance, a student in one of my workshops told me that list-making helps her get started when she’s trying to write a piece. Note how the first few lines of Oliver’s poem, below, work as a list of her morning observations. And note how the cat becomes a metaphor for “wild words,” and how, once again, the most ordinary experiences are sheer poetry. — CL

Morning
By Mary Oliver

Salt shining behind its glass cylinder.
Milk in a blue bowl. The yellow linoleum.
The cat stretching her black body from the pillow.
The way she makes her curvaceous response to the small, kind gesture.
Then laps the bowl clean.
Then wants to go out into the world
where she leaps lightly and for no apparent reason across the lawn,
then sits, perfectly still, in the grass.
I watch her a little while, thinking:
what more could I do with wild words?
I stand in the cold kitchen, bowing down to her.
I stand in the cold kitchen, everything wonderful around me.

–Reprinted from New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver; Beacon Press; Boston; 2005.

–Top Photo: Our wonderful cat, Jack, was a “wild thing” from the local animal shelter. —

“In Perpetual Spring”


The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses.”  ~Hanna Rion

Spring reminds us that we humans were not designed to hunker down in front of a computer monitor for days on end. At some point, we must wake up and engage all of our senses. We need to feel the sun on our backs and to inhale the scents of plants and rich earth.

My own garden has always been a place of healing and renewal. I’m deeply nourished by kneeling in the grass, working the soil, and tending new growth. By the the end of April, I can hardly wait to dig in — and my heart pumps peanut butter every time I drive past a local garden center or nursery. It’s all I can do to refrain from planting too early.

I’m really looking forward to expanding the herb garden outside our back door when the real danger of frost is past. In the meantime, I’m soaking up these gorgeous lines of Amy Gerstler’s, below. — CL

In Perpetual Spring
by Amy Gerstler

Gardens are also good places
to sulk. You pass beds of
spiky voodoo lilies
and trip over the roots
of a sweet gum tree,
in search of medieval
plants whose leaves,
when they drop off
turn into birds
if they fall on land,
and colored carp if they
plop into water.

Suddenly the archetypal
human desire for peace
with every other species
wells up in you. The lion
and the lamb cuddling up.
The snake and the snail, kissing.
Even the prick of the thistle,
queen of the weeds, revives
your secret belief
in perpetual spring,
your faith that for every hurt
there is a leaf to cure it.

–Reprinted from Bitter Angel, by Amy Gerstler; New York: North Point Press; 1990.–

— Garden photo by Cindy La Ferle —

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BLOG TOUR ALERT: If you missed a chance to win a free copy of my book, Writing Home, on other tour stops, here’s another. Click here to read Angie Muresan’s review and to participate in her  giveaway this week. I’ve always enjoyed Angie’s view on life — and I think you will too.

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“You, Reader”

Whenever anyone reads his words the writer is there. He lives in his readers.” — William S. Burroughs

Creative writing teachers often preach: “Write for yourself” and “Write what you know.” Good advice, yes. Still, most of us hope to build a readership. We write to make a connection with others.

Working as a weekly newspaper columnist, I was lucky enough to acquire a built-in audience — a strange and wonderful relationship. Most of my readers lived in my community, so I couldn’t hide behind a desk for long. I’d bump into them in the produce aisle at the grocery store or in line at the post office. Or in church on Sunday. Some would pull me aside to discuss what I’d written in the paper; others e-mailed or wrote letters to express their own thoughts on the topic of the week.

Billy Collins has addressed several of his poems to his readers, proving that he’s ever-mindful of our presence, even though we don’t live in the same town. He makes us ponder the complex relationship between writer and reader. In the funny, wistful poem below, Collins also reminds us that it’s the poet’s duty to “notice” the humblest details and to weave even the most ordinary experience into a piece of writing. Are you the poet — or the reader?  — CL

YOU, READER
By Billy Collins

I wonder how you are going to feel
when you find out
that I wrote this instead of you.

that it was I who got up early
to sit in the kitchen
and mention with a pen

the rain-soaked windows,
the ivy wallpaper,
and the goldfish circling in its bowl.

Go ahead and turn aside,
bite your lip and tear out the page,
but, listen — it was just a matter of time

before one of us happened
to notice the unlit candles
and the clock humming on the wall.

Plus, nothing happened that morning —
a song on the radio,
a car whistling along the road outside —

and I was only thinking
about the shakers of salt and pepper
that were standing side by side on a place mat.

I wondered if they had become friends
after all these years
or if they were still strangers to one another

like you and I
who manage to be known and unknown
to each other at the same time —

me at this table with a bowl of pears,
you leaning in a doorway somewhere
near some blue hydrangeas, reading this.

— Reprinted from The Trouble with Poetry: And Other Poems, by Billy Collins (Random House); 2005. —

— Photo detail from “Reading” (a mixed-media collage) by Cindy La Ferle —

APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH. If you enjoyed this poem and want to read more, check out the archives in my weekly “Poems to Inspire” series under “Categories” at right.

Circus of life

Damn everything that won’t get into the circle.” — e.e. cummings

I’ve been a fan of the big top as far back as I can remember. It was the highlight of every spring when I was child. Later, as a local freelance reporter, I was thrilled when I was assigned to interview the lion tamer when the traveling Shrine Circus came to town.

And I love how E.E. Cummings (also spelled e.e. cummings) uses the circus as a metaphor for a rich and juicy life — a life bursting with color, sparkle, muscle, and magic.

In another poem in this series, Rumi reminded us to seat ourselves next to our own joy. Along these lines, Cummings rallies against the safe and the dull. His poem is a warning against those who run around putting holes in other people’s balloons. So let’s hear three cheers for the risk-takers and joy lovers — for the fearless ones who dance on the tightrope of life. — CL

Damn everything but the circus!
By E.E. Cummings

…damn everything that is grim, dull,
motionless, unrisking, inward turning,
damn everything that won’t get into the
circle, that won’t enjoy, that won’t throw
its heart into the tension, surprise, fear
and delight of the circus, the round
world, the full existence…

— Reprinted from E.E. Cummings: Complete Poems: 1904 – 1962; Liveright; Revised Edition; 1994

— Detail from “Damn everything but the circus!” (an altered book) by Cindy La Ferle —

“What Came to Me”

Poetry is a packsack of invisible keepsakes.” ~Carl Sandburg

Amazing, isn’t it — how small things can hold so much? With the precision of a haiku poet, Jane Kenyon delivers a heart-load of emotion in this short but powerful poem. Anyone who loves the domestic arts will fall in love with Kenyon’s poetry. She had a gift for revealing the sacred in the mundane, reminding us that even the most ordinary objects we own can represent a wealth of memories, stories, and lessons. –CL

What Came to Me
By Jane Kenyon

I took the last
dusty piece of china
out of the barrel.
It was your gravy boat,
with a hard, brown
drop of gravy still
on the porcelain lip.
I grieved for you then
as I never had before.

-Reprinted from Jane Kenyon Collected Poems; Graywolf Press; 2005–

— Kitchen photo by Cindy La Ferle —

This post is part of a weekly poetry appreciation series. Want more? Check out Poems to Inspire in the CATEGORIES column at right.