After Her Death
I am trying to find the lesson
For tomorrow. Matthew something.
Which lectionary? I have not
forgotten the Way, but, a little,
the way to the Way. The trees keep whispering
peace, peace, and the birds
in the shallows are full of the
bodies of small fish and are
content. They open their wings
so easily, and fly. So. It is still
I open the book
which the strange, difficult, beautiful church
has given me. To Matthew. Anywhere.
~ Mary Oliver
"After Her Death" is one of the poems from Mary Oliver's latest collection, Thirst. In 2005 Mary Oliver was bereaved of her partner of more than forty years, and Thirst is an exploration of her process of deep mourning, and coming through the dark gates to faith.
While in most of her previous poems, Oliver locates the divine in the natural world and implicitly the divine as all-compassing - in Thirst she moves explicitly towards God. "After Her Death" is one of the poems of illustrating this new-found faith. Yet one has the sense it is a trying process for her, as even now she finds the church "strange, difficult" - yet still "beautiful" in spite of it. The poet has not abandoned her earlier connection to the breath and pulse of the natural world - the trees communicate their quiet peace, and all around she is aware of the flight and freedom of birds, the tactile physicalily of birds feeding on fish, and content in the natural cycle of life.
In a process of deep loss the poet has journeyed and through wisdom and a supple spirit - in spite of her advance age (Mary Oliver is in her 70s, I believe) - to come to a new sense of purpose and self.
It is an incredible thing. As we grow older, we want to hold on to constant things. Loss becomes harder. I wonder how I could bear to lose someone I have loved for forty years, and know through this loss that I would soon follow in death - and yet still surrender so completely to life as it is. It is one of the hardest thing in the world. Yet Mary Oliver seems to come to faith and her lessons with a modesty, a humility. Starting her lesson with the Book of Matthew, the first book of the New Testament.
I wonder if I could take it all so well.