Monday, February 19, 2007

Members of the Tribe

Members of the Tribe
by Mary Oliver

Ahead of me
they were lighting their fires
in the dark forests
of death.

Should I name them?
Their names make a long branch of sound.

You know them.


I know
death is the fascinating snake
under the leaves, sliding
and sliding; I know
the heart loves him too, can't
turn away, can't

break the spell. Everything

wants to enter the slow thickness,
aches to be peaceful finally and at any cost.

Wants to be stone.


That time
I wanted to die
was playing the piano
in the room with me.

It was Mozart.
It was Beethoven.
It was Bruckner.

In the kitchen
a man with one ear
was painting a flower.


in the asylum,
I began to pick through the red rivers
of confusion;

I began to take apart
the deep stitches
of nightmares.

That was good, human work.

This had nothing to do with laying down a path of words
that could throttle,
or soften,
the human heart.

Yeats, in love and anger,
stood beside his fallen friends;
Whitman kept falling
through the sleeve of ego.

In the back fields,
beyond the locked windows,
a young man who couldn't live long and knew it
was listening to a plain brown bird
that kept singing in the deep leaves,
that kept urging from him
some wild and careful words.
You know that
important and eloquent defense
of sanity.


I forgive them
their unhappiness,
I forgive them
for walking out of the world.

But I don't forgive them
for turning their faces away,
for taking off their veils
and dancing for death --

for hurtling
toward oblivion
on the sharp blades
of their exquisite poems, saying:
this is the way.


I was of course, all that time
coming along
behind them, and listening
for advice.


And the man who merely
washed Michaelangelo's brushes, kneeling
on the damp bricks, staring
every day at the colors pouring out of them,

lived to be a hundred years old.


Murali said...

Thank you for taking the time to post this poem. It is very inspirational! I saw reference to it in "the Enneagram Field Guide" by Carolyn Barlett and was glad to find it here this morning.

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