Marginal Notes Found in Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems Volume One, poems by S Francis (circa 2002-2008)

1. (After Bitterness)

Stop piling dirt
On a grave undug
On a plot unfound
Stop burying your life
You cannot die
If you have not lived
And you cannot live
If you bury your self
In the darkness of shadows
Of your sorrow
If you bury your self
With the worms
And allow them to eat
Your heart before you
Have ever given it the
Open space to breathe
This sweet, kind air

2. (After Hummingbird Pauses at the Trumpet Vine)

Strange weather patterns
Scientist give it names
Moralists debate the truth
For money or for god
Whichever argument gets
Them the swing votes
I just turn down the noise
We make after all in
The field of time the noise
Our kind will have made
Will sound like a cricket
In your neighbors mudroom
And I wonder if it is just
That time when the earth
Decides to (says it is time for a) change
Not really considering either
Side of the argument

3. (After October)

What if some evening
We walked outside and
Left our words at home
Would the muse haunting our souls
Be silent for a change
Taking refuge in a breath
And letting the only true poetry
Crush its tender flesh with terror
The heart feels in the presence
Of whole beauty
Unnamed
Unlabeled
Unjudged

Beauty in its entirety
Will only be whispered
Of by poets in the end
Despite our volumes
Of desperate effort to capture
It

Even Shakespeare’s wings melted in the end

4. (After Spring, p70)

What are poets but helpless
Souls drowning in beauty
Or some other decadence
And grasping out for words
Like the man whose lungs
Full of water grasps the
Surface of the water
Believing with the last fit
Of consciousness that it
Will keep him afloat
Before being swallowed by
The dark beauty of the depths
Where the souls journey
Will begin again
As something new
As something new

5. (After The Fish)

Can we draw a line from our
Joy to pain?
Seems failing to do so
Deprives us of some deeper
Magic than mere humanity
With so many of us
That rarer magic we’ve lost (smothered?) (bludgeoned?)
Might prove more special
Should we find it
Dare we find it

(C) Stephen Fuller, 2019

for Mary Oliver (1935-2019)
these are my marginal notes/poems lifted without edit
written following/while reading
book read sometime between 2002 and 2008, hard to say exactly when
probably earlier rather than later
I suspect there are more marginal notes to be found in my Oliver books
you were a great one, an inspirational one, a favorite
rest now, poet, let our breaths carry your words forward

‘Wed me to this hour’, a poem by S Francis

Wed me to this hour
That wraps its ring around me
Encircling what remains of before
When I was not what this is.

I became what desire made,
Not what needed making, so
Trembled.

I tremble again and again.

As gold shimmers in its pan
Waiting to be sifted from dirt
Melted down to begin again.

Written after reading ‘Now the hour bends down and touches me’ by Rilke from Book of Hours as translated by Edward Snow and published by North Point Press in New York, 2009

(C) Stephen Fuller, 2019

A Wordless Effigy, a poem by S Francis

I want to define with whom I speak
When I call out his name:
A wordless effigy.
But, I do not. Listen instead
To the wind and its trailing silence.

Still down to the dirt on knees
To feel the cool damp flesh
That tumbles through fingers
Pealing me away bit by bit
Back into the man bit by bit

I met when I stood on that rock,
A shadowed boy who saw a view
Of mountains and trees, and heard
In the wind’s trailing silence
Words that are no longer needed.

Written after reading Rilke’s ‘I have many brothers who wear light cassocks’ from Book of Hours as translated by Edward Snow, published by North Point Press in New York, 2009.

(C) Stephen Fuller, 2019

I Ask My Soul, a poem by S Francis

Neruda tells us his soul is an empty carousel
At sunset. I ask you what is your soul, then?
You ask me, “and yours?” This I contemplate,
Tonight. I sit in my bed, an unusually warm
December day has turned its axis past setting.
The kaleidoscope horses stabled and the carts
In the garage. My mind, though, still turns,
Thought over thought, the bitter and the sweet,
The hopeful and forlorn, like the carny tune
That radiates out from the carousel’s core.
Thoughts that fail to mate with notes that ring
From one ear to the next before ricocheting
Into the atmosphere. Orange clouds now grey
Just like the purple and the red and the pink.
Have I answered your question, my soul?
What is it? I do not know, I shall sleep
In hope of casting a net in my dreams
Where what lurks behind thought’s torment
Emerges in story more absurd than the life
We haul out each morning to escape the dark
That the empty carousel illuminates when
The sun sets on Neruda’s leaving only mine.

(C) Stephen Fuller, 2019

‘Recollect whispers in tree tops’ a poem by S Francis

Recollect whispers in tree tops
What was thought as just wind
Is the flowering of His seed
Risen up from dirt
Through roots and trunk
To shine as tender green gems
That capture His breath
To blow Mercy back on us:

Still growing,
Still seeking.

Yes, a life that began so small
Now feels vast.

A life that must know death
First must live.

So recollect the whispers in trees
And know it to be not just wind
But the actualization of living
In these moments before death.

Written after reading Rilke’s ‘I find you, Lord, in all things and in all’ as translated by Stephen Mitchell, published by Vintage International, NYC in 1982.

(C) Stephen Fuller, 2019

‘I hear Your voice and begin to dream’ a poem by S Francis

I hear Your voice and begin to dream
As once when the dreamer was me.
I wake, though, on earth in its mire
Feelings’ muddied wings not able to rise
Out of their nest as if chrysalis
Crisped the skin to a hardened shell
That would not crack to expose magnificence.
These wings will be bright blue and green
Like the sea mating the sky in silence.
A prayer surging up from the soul
Sings to God’s whispers in the tree tops.
And I try once again, flexing the flesh
That clings to the bones of feathers
That will carry me up to join His chorus.

Written after reading Rilke’s ‘I am, O Anxious One. Don’t you hear my voice’ as translated by Stephen Mitchell, published by Vintage International, NYC in 1982. Take a look at this beautiful musical rendition of the poem:

(C) Stephen Fuller, 2019

Fear, a poem by S Francis

Where do we walk

When we don’t know

When we are frightened

When the world’s a beast

We’d lost the desire to tame

Where do we walk?

Where do we swim

When we don’t know

When we are frightened

When Ocean’s a beast

We’d lost the desire to tame

Where do we swim?

One last time, we extend a hand

One last time, we reach out

One last time, we hope

Someone on that path

Someone in that ocean

Will be there to extend a hand.

What though, if my legs weaken

What though, if my arms weaken

What though, yards from shore

My heart finally gives out

What though, near the clearing

My soul finally quits me?

Contemplate this on that walk

Contemplate this on that swim

Only your legs carry you

Only your arms pull you.

The hand is not there.

But life remains. Waiting.

Elegy for the Tree of Life, a poem by S Francis

An individual, indivisible angel
Raises his voice out to God and
We follow with our cacophony
Seeking its ethereal path throughout
A fading existence in weathered flesh.
So a chorus erupts to fill up the small
Universe we occupy. Solitary souls adrift
Among asteroids like a comet’s wish.
We reach out for the voice to lift us.
Yet eleven… eleven voices now gone
As if Judas sought a revision of his story:
Instead of the Singer he’d take the chorus
To leave none to tell the greatest story
We’d never hear.

Could my words ever be worthy
Of the voice that reaches out
And finds God?

Skipping Stones (Part One), a short story by S Francis

A girl, age 12, approached a man with grey hair bent over picking up smooth, flat stones on the beach. The moon had joined him early in the evening, half of a navel orange. He greeted it with an imaginary cup in his hand and wished upon the first star he could reach up and dip that cup in the waxing bowl and fill it with the tangy juice he thought it held. As the girl drew closer, a small basket of wild strawberries in her hand, the bay stilled as if to listen to the words she was preparing to say to the stranger. The surf made a gentle rhythm for the poetry in her heart.

“What are you doing, sir?” She asked.

“Hello, young lady. I am collecting skipping stones.”

“Skipping stones? Why are you collecting skipping stones?”

“Someday I will give them to my children.”

“What will your children do with them?”

“When I die, I want them to take their basket of stones I have collected to the beach and skip them back into the sea.”

“Why do you want them to do that?”

“Because with each skip, I want them to remember one memory of me and return it to the ocean where it will join the many others awaiting it on the bottom.”

“That sounds very sad to me.”

“Maybe it is sad, young lady, but maybe it is not. Can you imagine how many stones are on the ocean floor?”

“No, I do not think I can.”

“Well, then, look at the sand all around us can you count the grains?”

“No, sir, I certainly cannot!”

“Neither can I, but look closely at the grains and you will see skipping stones that have released all their good and bad back into the water to give it the flavor you taste when you swim.”

“I am not sure I understand.”

“In your hand, alone, you will hold countless memories of men and women, boys and girls who came to this very spot and returned their memories into the sea and now they make up the ground we stand on as we talk.”

“So if I built a sand castle right here with you, we would be building a home for memories?”

“Yes, little girl, I do believe we would. Would you like to do that with me?”

“I would. Do you like wild strawberries?”

“They are the sweetest kind, especially when picked under a half-orange moon. Look!” He pointed up to the moon, now larger and an even brighter orange than when it first joined him.

“I see. Do you think it could be a peach or maybe an apricot?”

“Perhaps. I thought it might be a bowl of orange juice and when the first bright star shined, I wished I could dip this cup in it and fill it.” He held up his hand, fingers wrapped around an invisible glass.

“It does look very tasty, it does.”

“Try some with me, can you reach the moon?”

“Maybe you could pick me up so I could reach it?”

He did so and when she pulled down her cup the orange juice it contained glowed. They both looked inside and their mouths opened in awe. “Where did that cup come from?” He asked.

“The same place yours did, sir.” She pointed to the hand that had held the invisible glass and in it he saw a cup much like hers, it, too, containing the same glowing orange juice. “Shall we taste it?”

“Yes, I think we shall. Cheers!” They each took a sip. “Now, that there is some good juice. What do you think?”

“The best juice ever.” With that, she picked up a stone and held it out for him to inspect, “what do you think of this stone.”

“I think that will do just fine.”

“Would you mind if I skipped it, now? I want all those memories down there to remember these cups of juice, it tastes too good to forget.”

“Well that is as good a reason as any. Guess how many times it will skip before you do. Don’t tell me though, and I will guess too and we shall see who was right.”

“Okay.” She closed her eyes. He closed his eyes. When opened again, she hooked her finger around the rock and whipped her arm in perfect form.

1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… 7… 8… 9…

“Yay! Nine!” She jumped up with excitement at the accuracy of her guess, and maybe because she had never gotten more than 5.

“Well done. I thought for sure we’d only get 8, but your perfect form and the stillness of the bay just invited your stone out a little deeper. Do you know what that means?”

“No, I do not.”

“The deeper the memory, the longer it lasts and the more it becomes part of the ocean.”

“So our special drink will never be forgotten?”

“No, I do not think it will.” With that they smiled and sat down in the sand to build a castle and discover the stories it held.