I’ve been reading a book of poems recently entitled Owls and Other Fantasies, one of Mary Oliver’s many collections. I’ve written in the past about how Mary has inspired me and she has done it again. She balances an exhilarating mastery of language to make readers smile and weep with a healthy dose of reality reminding us that though she is an exceptional writer, she, too, understands the sorrows and joys of being human. Owls and Other Fantasies is a collection of poems and essays about birds and how they cause us to think about our lives and even recognize a new reality beyond our understanding. I’ve written about birds before and how beautiful they are when they fly. Our avian friends have the privilege of seeing the world from a slightly higher perspective than us. And their hollow bones allow them to make it look so easy.
When I was in the final stretches of my cross country train trip from Chicago to Portland, I had four more hours on the tail end of the trip than I was expecting. Our train was delayed, but the time allowed me to be cognizant throughout the entire journey along the Columbia Gorge from Pasco, WA to Portland. I was in a place of great expectancy…later that day I was moving into my now current apartment, experiencing many transitions in the process. Train travel has always inspired me to write and at many times in my life has served as a symbol of new beginnings. So, on that final stretch of my train transition, I wrote this poem that I hope reminds you even just remotely of Mary Oliver’s avian poetry.
Just as a flying duck anticipates its descent
onto a sheet of flowing water,
I anticipate my homecoming.
Wings outstretched, the duck displays its
colorful underwing feathers,
wind and mist whipping through the air.
I approach, arms oustretched,
seeing your smiling face waiting for me at the station.
And then he lands, webbed feat extended,
and with a splash, legs hit water and sink,
feathered body catching the impact and he floats.
And I do the same,
float into your embrace, and squeeze,
your smell as reassuring as the cold water, home.
As I approach my home, the familiar mist and rain
and dark palette of greens and navies,
greys and browns envelops me like a hug.
The sight of Multnomah Falls, its fresh white ribbon cutting down,
slices the green expanse of trees into pieces.
And the wide expanse of the river flows West,
as we travel with it, winding between the hills
and dramatic cut of the land.
It is home, my Oregon, my Northwest comfort,
and I have just seen the country-
Midwest cities and farms, Northern rural towns and plains,
Rocky Mountain ranches and expansive, white forests.
But this is home, welcoming me back with its forest embrace
of mist and damp,
just as the river hugs the duck as it lands,
just as your arms wrap around me in welcome.