Such Singing in the Wild Branches

I recently learned that April is National Poetry Month. Who knew? I didn’t.

I feel like poetry has waned from the day-to-day experiences of most of us. Aside from insertions in the New Yorker or NPR pieces on the current poet laureate, when do we ever hear poetry anymore? It seems as we move farther and farther away from our schooling––studying Shakespeare’s sonnets, writing our own iambic pentameter, or creating simple haikus––our adult work becomes increasingly specialized and often filled with meaningless corporate mumbo jumbo (actualizing monetization strategies, driving bottom line results, blah blah blah). Where’s the soul in it all?

This is why poetry is important. It’s that form of art in which words become more than simply the sum of their parts. More than a bottom line. By strictly constructing with words selected not just for meaning, but also for aesthetic, phonetic and rhythmic qualities, poems are able to vividly convey the deepest experiences of what it means to be human.

Since there are just a few days left in April, I thought I’d post a little something to honor this most refined artistic mode of writing, with a selection below by Mary Oliver. I like it very much.

And if you’d like to actually hear some poetry, there’s a reading this Friday night at Laurel Bookstore in the Laurel district of Oakland. Local writer, poet, and teacher Alison Luterman will be reading from her new collection of poetry Desire Zoo.

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Such Singing in the Wild Branches

It was spring
and I finally heard him
among the first leaves––
then I saw him clutching the limb

in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still

and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness––
and that’s when it happened,

when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree––
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,

and the sands in the glass
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward

like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing––
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed

not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfect blue sky–––all of them

were singing.
And, of course, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last

For more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,

is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?

Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then––open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.

-Mary Oliver

Red Headed Bird