I read a beautiful poem once by a poet named Mary Oliver
(My uncle will tear out pages of The New Yorker sometimes and keep them in a box the way some people of a certain age do)
called The Poet With His Face in His Hands.
“You want to cry out for your mistakes,” she says rightly and wisely, “But to tell the truth the world doesn’t need any more of that sound.”
Mary Oliver tells me (she has my attention now, she speaks directly to me, my face in my hands) that if I’m going to do it anyway, that I should travel far away from civilization where I won’t bug anyone, a noisy place, like a waterfall or the Internet, where I can scream unheard, a tree falling in the forest. Where I can “drip with despair” unobserved by nature her very self.
Mary Oliver doesn’t want to hear it.
So I go.
I take my hiking boots and my entire supply of shame, guilt, rage, doubt,
I slip it all into a secret compartment just behind my ribs
And we set off together past the city limits to the wastes.
They’re crushing me, the wretched fruit of my faulty design. Too heavy to go on tonight.
I quietly wish Mary Oliver had never been featured in The New Yorker where my uncle would find her, where she would mildly wait for me to crash into her on my world tour of destruction.
I wonder into my dinner
(beans, like cowboys)
if Mary Oliver ever trekked to the waterfall, if I’ll find her there,
an etching, a manifesto.
I imagine myself stepping through, somber, monk-like, and Mary Oliver’s glowing apparition slowly gathering before me.
“You’re so cool and smart,” her energy-being murmurs,
and I wake up feeling important.
Cleveland is so grey in the winter,
my grandmother’s favorite color,
like that song.
The morning sky rides my shoulders and I feel deliciously tragic,
a broken-hearted pioneer woman, maybe, escaping into the wilderness to mourn the loss of her baby…****, too sad.
…to mourn the loss of her old mule Hank, and to find herself among the…
I look around. Generic Cleveland Trees. ****.
I wish I knew about local foliage,
everyone is impressed by a person who is At One With Nature.
I would know if I were a tragic yet somehow glowing from within pioneer woman. Head down, wondering how it can be 53 degrees on December 10th and trying not to think about the polar bears.
I soldier on.
Mary Oliver recommends traveling 40 fields and 40 dark inclines of rocks and water.
(A sweeping arial shot of me traversing the expanse, majestic hair blowing behind like Vigo Mortenssen at Helm’s Deep).
Beans again, like cowboys.
I feel good tired and wonder where a person finds quality poetic landscape like 40 fields and 40 dark inclines of rocks and water.
I didn’t really think this through.
An itch, a burn behind my ribs,
Just one! Just one, Mary Oliver,
just a ****,
they’ve been in there for days with so little attention.
No one answers, inevitably.
No one’s there, just me, always just me, alone with all of my worst days in the dark in the woods.
Just one peek.
I wake up and its bright as hell.
What the ****.
What is the point of trees if they don’t dramatically block out the sun at your lowest moment?
I squint and automatically say a little thank you,
the sun is so rare in the winter.
A ritual in the cold light.
I flash in, awash with readiness
Something is coming or something was here but my stomach hollows out like a fake-out gut punch
Something was here, last night, it’s surrounding me on all sides
Yes that’s right, I remember and Im sorry for the remembering because I’m creative
and before I can stop myself
I’m swallowed whole into the darkness
Just like I wanted.
It’s a struggle,
The swirling absence of light from last nights indulgent, masochistic self-harm parade has expanded like smoke to fill the third space of my body. I am 2 dimensional, a 3rd grade drawing of a person, flat and scribbley, a poor representation.
They always come back.
Sure as eggs.
Sure as taxes.
The greatest hits, everyone was there,
Ripe and healthy,
My well tended heirloom misery, dismal in the garden and aching to stretch its creeping vines.
A vessel to feed on, a disciple,
Bleeding on the alter of self sacrifice, oh happy dagger, ecstatic drag over the open mouths of those cherry coals. Faithless and perfect. Crimson crisp is a broken spirit,
Brittle like nails, and sleep, and ego.
My friends, too, wars within wars. Pale and desperate. Trauma-bonded and aging faster than their parents did, who bought a house, who had three kids, who saved for college. Wars within wars. Shame, guilt, rage, doubt, fear. Pain. So much pain.
I’m lost in the ******* woods and this poison smoke so black so black it’s in my eyes burning my throat my lungs swirling now sure as eggs sure as taxes I repent I release my will please it’s crushing me I can’t make it Mary Oliver, you shining city on the hill, where are you, Im losing, Im alone, alone, no one knows
Not a cowboy, or a pioneer, or a ranger, or a monk in a waterfall cave.
I’m a poet with my ****** face in my hands.
I’M THE POET WITH MY FACE IN MY HANDS AND I WILL NOT FEAR CRYING ALOUD FOR MY MISTAKES.
They come then. Every one of them, as I knew they would, just outside the gate and waiting ravenously
My endless flaws
Powerful and obstinate in their glaring humanity
The constellations of hurt snaking from the roots of my well kept garden
Barbed and bound to everyone I ever loved. The horned monsters of unresolved trauma and the ego machine
Deafening static roar, mechanical swarm of devouring plague locusts
descending upon the 40 fields
Oh here, oh now
In the dark of course
Where else but the smoking vessel of my brokenness
I want to laugh at myself for constructing a cliche within my own self reckoning
Choking on my own toxic exhaust and crying and choking
This is hysteria, I think
Blurred and muffled on the edge of the hole, a ******* slurring descent, it’s there if I want it
I could dive in and
What is happening,
What the ****, Mary Oliver?
Of whom I’ve never seen a photo,
who is crowning now from the bubbling tar pit, who has chosen this moment to reveal herself, a nice touch.
She rises from the epicenter of my chaos
Like a blinding beacon of holographic light
(Again I check in with myself that it’s weird she is holographic, why is she made of rainbows)
Beautiful and terrible and 10000 feet high
My mighty dragon. What an entrance.
I laugh again, of course Rainbow Bright is my big bad, how did I not see this coming, the final girl against the final girl, myself against my greatest self betrayal
She is me
She is arbitrary denial
She is suppression and avoidance
She is vying for approval
Every embarrassing moment and every unbidden 3am attack of self loathing.
Shame and guilt and doubt and rage and fear.
She is my pain, this awful manifestation, this truly depressing personification of all of my absolute *******…
MARY OLIVER I AM THE POET WITH MY HEAD IN MY HANDS
She turns and sweeps down
And grabs me tightly, ****, oh god you have a nest dont you?
Through the air and I’m wet and dripping and…
is this a cave?
An etching, I have to find something
I desperately search and my teapot is boiling, boiling, boiling over
And there behind that jubilation and water fun
I find no trace of Mary Oliver, who is me and I am her
There in that moment when nothing has been gained and my body begins to release from its own tension and collapse into itself from exhaustion and despair
I notice the air
Fresh and cool and fragrant and something else too
My dragon, far from slain, squirming a little inside me, feeling prodded and suspicious of this quenching.
At least we had this moment
Oh it’s you
Oh god it’s me
And finally then,
I throw my head back