Beautiful earth: Mary Oliver's poem, again

I’m going to be obnoxious and start by asking you to read this out loud, or at least under your breath, because half of its pleasures are in the rhythms and rhymes.

What Was Once the Largest Shopping Center in
Northern Ohio Was Built Where There Had Been
a Pond I Used to Visit Every Summer Afternoon

Loving the earth, seeing what has been done to it,
I grow sharp, I grow cold.

Where will the trilliums go, and the coltsfoot?
Where will the pond lilies go to continue living
their simple, penniless lives, lifting
their faces of gold?

Impossible to believe we need so much
as the world wants us to buy.
I have more clothes, lamps, dishes, paper clips
than I could possibly use before I die.

Oh, I would like to live in an empty house,
with vines for walls, and a carpet of grass.
No planks, no plastic, no fiberglass.

And I suppose I will.
Old and cold I will lie apart
from all this buying and selling, with only
the beautiful earth in my heart.

Mary Oliver

Directly counter to her intentions, I know, but I’m going to turn this one into a sampler. I have one kind-of underway but it is much, much too small to accommodate this poem.


When I was younger, and my parents would take us to my maternal grandparents’ cottage, a shack on the banks of a small creek with a waterfall and a highway across the bridge, no insulation, no running water, I would sometimes lie on the dirt ground with my eyes closed and just feel the soil beneath my fingers. Dry, sandy, fine, spread with needles and pinecones. Daddy long legs and ants would tickle over the backs of my hands and I could hear the water rushing over the stones.

I can’t remember what clothes, lamps, dishes or paper clips I owned then, although there are a few notable toys that staid stuck–the EasyBake oven, for instance, or the Little Matchstick Girl doll my mother sewed me, or the Cabbage Patch Kid, or the dollhouse my father built. But while I remember those toys, the things I loved back then, I don’t remember the times I played with them. I remember them, separate from their contexts and occasions. Whereas the dirt on the forest floor near my grandparents’ cottage is inextricably wound in dozens of specific memories.

And yet here I am, still with more clothes, lamps, dishes and paper clips than I can possibly use before I die. Isn’t it funny how hard it is to keep out of a system that is not only destructive, but does not meaningfully contribute to one’s happiness?

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