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Likely Stories -- American Primitive, by Mary Oliver

Sublime collection of nature poetry

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Mary Oliver has been hailed by the New York Times as “by far the country’s best-selling poet.” These fifty poems of American Primitive are among her most acclaimed volumes. Mary was born in a small town in Ohio. She died in 2019.

Here are my favorites from American Primitive.

AugustWhen the blackberries hang swollen in the woods, in the brambles nobody owns, I spend all day among the high branches, reaching my ripped arms, thinking of nothing, cramming the black honey of summer into my mouth; all day my body accepts what it is. In the dark creeks that run by there is this thick paw of my life darting among the black bells, the leaves; there is this happy tongue.

Postcard from Flamingo. At midnight, in Flamingo, the dark palms are clicking in the wind, an unabashed autoeroticism. Far off in the red mangroves an alligator has heaved himself onto a hummock of grass and lies there, studying his poems. Consider the sins, all seven, all deadly! Ah, the difficulty of my life so far! This afternoon, in the velvet waters, hundreds of white birds! What a holy and sensual splashing! Soon the driven sea will come lashing around the blue island of the sunrise. If you were here, if I could touch you, my hands would begin to sing.

Spring.  I lift my face to the pale flowers of the rain. They’re soft as linen clean as holy water. Meanwhile my dog runs off, noses down packed leaves into my damp, mysterious tunnels. He says the smells are rising now stiff and lively; he says the beasts are waking up now full of oil, sleep sweat, tag-ends of dreams. The rain rubs its shinning hands all over me. My dog returns and barks fiercely, he says each secret body is the richest advisor, deep in the black earth such fuming nuggets of joy!

The Snakes. I once saw two snakes, northern racers, hurrying through the woods, their bodies like two black whips lifting and dashing forward; in perfect concert they held their heads high and swam forward on their sleek belies; under the trees, through vines, branches, over stones, through fields of flowers, they traveled like a matched team like a dance like a love affair.

The Roses. One day in summer // when everything has already been more than enough the wild beds start // exploding open along the berm of the sea; day after day // you sit near them; day after day // the honey keeps coming in the red cups and the bees // like amber drops roll in the petals: there is no end, believe me! to the invitation of summer, to the happiness of your body is willing to bear.

Mary Oliver has shared her love of nature once again. American Primitive is a sublime example of her love of nature. 10 Stars!

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!