Category Archives: poetry

Mary Oliver and Barbara Kingsolver

Many years ago I first encountered Mary Oliver through an essay of hers — it was in something like a book-of-the-month club newsletter. I was stunned, as I often have been since, by her ability to speak, not just to me, but for me, to say things that are in my heart but may never come out of me so brilliantly. She’s a gem.

A friend once said she’d like to be listening to classical music as she lay dying. I had never considered the matter but immediately realized it is rain I want to hear last. mjh

Poem: “Marengo,” by Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems (Beacon Press).


Out of the sump rise the marigolds.
From the rim of the marsh, muslin with mosquitoes,
rises the egret, in his cloud-cloth.
Through the soft rain, like mist, and mica,
the withered acres of moss begin again.

When I have to die, I would like to die
on a day of rain–
long rain, slow rain, the kind you think will never end.

And I would like to
have whatever little ceremony there might be
take place while the rain is shoveled and shoveled out of the sky,

and anyone who comes
must travel, slowly and with thought,
as around the edges of the great swamp.
MPR’s The Writer’s Almanac

The Writer’s Almanac®, a daily program of poetry and history hosted by Garrison Keillor, can be heard each day on public radio stations throughout the country. Each day’s program is about five minutes long

I might say many of the same things about Barbara Kingsolver, another brilliant writer. mjh

by Barbara Kingsolver

This is all that happened.
In the pollen heat of August,
one of those days when the

fills your skin like a leaf,
I was in my yard,
visiting the trees.
A man in a clean blue shirt
stood waiting, suddenly,
for me

to notice,
waiting as if forever.
Polite enough, in trouble,
said his car broke down.
His mouth was a pale cave.
He needed to get in

out of the sun.
He asked if he could
ask me for a favor.
In those days it was my habit
to say I would,
even before I asked
what do

you want?
He followed me in.
I poured water in a china cup,
china, a wreath of antique roses,
and then he asked
if I would do just

one more thing.
I felt, before I saw
the stainless point between my ribs
dead center on the heartbeat,
a treasure in a cage

easily opened.
Nothing at all to the lock.
I said, “Yes I will.”
I didn’t ask, “What is it
that you want?”
It was the last time.

That knife was mine, I’d used it
on a hundred days to peel
my vegetables, and with that exact
regard for me he used it, peeled off

what there was
of faith.

The officers came promptly
as if they had been waiting.
Fingerprinted everything including me
and stated

endlessly into their open radios
that there had be a ten forty-four on 8th street.
That’s what they called it.
These men who carry

couldn’t bring themselves to call by name
what had been done to me. Instead
they gathered traces
from my body,
from the broken

cup, things
that could not have been more empty.
A trace of hair or blood or sperm
to bring him down.
A scent
for the hunt.


ever find him. And
I don’t expect him back,
he’s finished here. No silver
under the bed,
no trust.
I keep it in a locked

drawer with my kitchen knives
and other things of mine that have used against me.
[thanks to NewMexiKen for returning me to this path.]