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17 Jan 2022

Ford Neal


Full Moon


Feb 1st


Jan 2nd

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

               She says,

               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.

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