17 Jan 2022
For Mary Oliver,
after her poem Wild Geese
And when I sense that I am in a state of grace
She appears, and moves toward me, fresh
In white cotton trousers and blue waterproof jacket
And I know three things, immediately:
She is young.
She is perfectly content.
She is of the sea.
We sit together, side by side on a slope
High above the city, looking to the North
To the devastating North
As the last of the light leaves
And a storm muscles in, gull-grey.
I sense that it is time to ask my question, so
I turn to her and say
Mother Mary, are you sure
That I do not have to be good
And spend my life repenting on my knees?
And though she is young tonight,
She understands my question about the words
She will not write for years.
And she speaks in my mother’s voice
(Which of course she didn’t have),
And instead of answering my question
I can see that you have never loved anyone properly.
But are you sure? I say.
About the goodness and repentance:
Are you sure?
Child, she says
(She’s younger than me)
Soft animal child
Why do you need to be sure?
Behind the poem...
Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese is of course a well-known and very well-loved poem. My own poem, Apparition, explores the similarities between the roles played by art and religion in people’s lives, and the ability of poetry and art to guide, inspire and comfort. I chose to write this poem after Oliver’s because it seemed to me to be a great example of a poem’s ability to perform these roles for a wide range of people. And too, because the poet’s name enabled me to play on the word ‘Mary’, with its associated religious phenomenon of Marian apparition.