Mary Oliver


Sweet Jesus, talking 
his melancholy madness,  
stood up in the boat 
and the sea lay down,

silky and sorry. 
So everybody was saved  
that night. 
But you know how it is

when something 
different crosses 
the threshold — the uncles  
mutter together,

the women walk away, 
the young brother begins 
to sharpen his knife. 
Nobody knows what the soul is.

It comes and goes 
like the wind over the water –  
sometimes, for days, 
you don’t think of it.

Maybe, after the sermon,  
after the multitude was fed, 
 one or two of them felt 
the soul slip forth

like a tremor of pure sunlight  
before exhaustion, 
that wants to swallow everything,  
gripped their bones and left them

miserable and sleepy, 
as they are now, forgetting  
how the wind tore at the sails 
 before he rose and talked to it –

tender and luminous and demanding  
as he always was – 
a thousand times more frightening  
than the killer sea.

spoken = Susannah Wood