Wild Geese

I woke up this morning to the familiar voices of my sisters as they passed overhead, winging their way in V-formation across the sky, signaling the change of seasons. As I, too, am migrating (admittedly only a short distance from Berkeley to Alameda), I feel closer than ever to my totems as they answer their inner call to get a move on. Answering that restlessness is natural to them. For me, it requires much more agonizing.

I first read the beautiful poem below, written by Mary Oliver, two years ago. I have a recording of Meryl Streep reciting it as a guest on Prairie Home Companion in my phone, and recently I have found it encouraging to share with a few of my clients and friends. It's a highly unorthodox moment for me, in the middle of a reading, to say to a client, "Would you mind if I go get my phone and play you this poem? I feel it encapsulates what I am trying to say to you." Everyone has loved it, and everyone I have shared it with has taken away their own meanings from it. This morning, it came to mind as I lay in bed in my new home, listening to their cries, having finally turned in the keys to the Hobbit House last night.

Albert and I burned a last fire at my former hearth and released a great deal of past magic. Then he left and I burned the broom brush and broke the handle, sprayed gardenia water to cleanse the place and leave it fresh and ready to be filled with a new spirit, called to my dead cats to come with me. Gathered myself up from each and every corner, thanked each and every room for its fulfillment of function, and, sobbing, closed the door and walked down the brick-and-stone path one last time. Being in the thrall of nostalgia is excruciating, and my ongoing mindfulness practice around observing my emotions is weak in ways that I see bear further work.

On the other hand, I got home last night and my handsome, loving, nurturing partner was waiting with open arms, comfort, and readiness for our next steps together. I am so happy about this move. I love our new space. I am delighted that my life is unfolding down this new path. And I also grieve in the interstices of change for what I leave behind. Do the geese yearn for this pond or that greenway of their past? Or do the places they have grazed, slept and mated all just blend together in their memories like the landscape flashing by in a blur?

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
published by Atlantic Monthly Press
© Mary Oliver