Mary Oliver


On the curving, dusty roads
we drove through the plantations
where the pickers balanced on the hot hillsides —
then we climbed toward the green trees,
toward the white scarves of the clouds,
to the inn that is never closed
in this island of fairest weather.
The sun hung like a stone,
time dripped away like a steaming river
and from somewhere a dry tongue lashed out
its single motto: now and forever.
And the pickers balance on the hot hillsides
like gray and blue blossoms,
wrapped in their heavy layers of clothes
against the whips of the branches
in that world of leaves no poor man,
with a brown face and an empty sack,
has ever picked his way out of.
At the inn we stepped from the car
to the garden, where tea
was brought to us scalding in white cups from the fire.
Don’t ask if it was the fire of honey
or the fire of death, don’t ask
if we were determined to live, at last,
with merciful hearts. We sat
among the unforgettable flowers.
We let the white cups cool before
we raised them to our lips.

spoken = Susannah Wood