Janet Ruth

Issue 16


—A cento in homage to Mary Oliver
using 45 lines from 45 of her poems in Devotions

The witchery of living
 ……. is my whole conversation with you, my darlings,
though time is draining from the clock.
The world has fallen out of reason.
These are the hours with the old wooden-god faces.

Be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world,
the sun rose up like a pot of blood.
Put your lips to the world. And live your life.
Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it,
standing around as though with your arms open.

There is only one question; how to love this world.
This is a poem about the world that is ours, or could be,
the perfect, stone-hard beauty of everything.
Nothing’s important except that the great and cruel mystery
 ……. of the world,  of which this is a part, not be denied.

Just pay attention, then patch a few words together.
You don’t ever know where a sentence will take you,
the pencil haltingly calling up the light of the world—
scalding, aortal light—in which we are washed
 ……. and washed out of our bones.

I don’t know exactly what prayer is.
Maybe such devotion, in which one holds the world in the clasp
 ……. of attention, isn’t the perfect prayer, but it must be close.
You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles
like a woman who is balancing a sword inside her body.

Sometimes I need only stand wherever I am and be blessed.
Holiness is visible, entirely.
Said the river: I am part of holiness.
I lay on the grass listening
 …….to his dog voice, crow voice, frog voice.

I tell you this to break your heart.
The world is full of leaves and feathers,
 ……. and comfort, and instruction,
All were shriven, as all the round world is.
It tastes like stone, leaves, fire.

I was made of leaves,
the reckless blossoms of weeds,
old twist of feathers and birch bark.
The glittering pandemonium leaned on me.
I had vanished at least a dozen times into something better.

Do you love this world?
Have you changed your life?
Who will chide you if you wander away
 ……. from wherever you are, to look for your soul,
when those white wings touch the shore?

Imagination is better than a sharp instrument,
looked at me with his gravel eyes,
He has a gift for you, but it has no name.
Joy is not made to be a crumb—
still ready, beyond all else, to dance for the world.

As long as you are dancing, you can break the rules.

Janet Ruth is an emeritus research ornithologist, living in New Mexico. Her writing focuses on connections to the natural world. Her first book, Feathered Dreams: Celebrating Birds in Poems, Stories & Images, is a finalist for the 2018 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.

 Photo by Ahmad Odeh