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 the 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.
Mary Oliver


Painting by James Crandall

I shall paint my nails red

I Shall Paint My Nails Red by Carole Satyamurti (1939-2019)

because a bit of colour is a public service.
because I am proud of my hands.
because it will remind me I’m a woman.
because I will look like a survivor.
because I can admire them in traffic jams.
because my daughter will say ugh.
because my lover will be surprised.
because it is quicker than dyeing my hair.
because it is a ten-minute moratorium.
because it is reversible.

Clear night

“Clear night, thumb-top of a moon, a back-lit sky.
Moon-fingers lay down their same routine
On the side deck and the threshold, the white keys and the black keys.
Bird hush and bird song. A cassia flower falls.
I want to be bruised by God.
I want to be strung up in a strong light and singled out.
I want to be stretched, like music wrung from a dropped seed.
I want to be entered and picked clean.
And the wind says “What?” to me.
And the castor beans, with their little earrings of death, say “What?” to me.
And the stars start out on their cold slide through the dark.
And the gears notch and the engines wheel.”

Clear Night by Charles Wright 1982


Painting by Devin Leonardi

Have a go under the waterfall

This is The Dipper, a poem by by Scottish poet, Kathleen Jamie. It’s impossible to write about a bird and make it breathtaking, but here it is, completed and placed by an expert for us to consider. Honoured.

 I saw that she wrote issue instead of flew. As soon as I saw issue, I saw the water give birth to the bird. The poem itself (in my head) flooded and fell, green with experience and cold and difficulties. When I saw solitary, the poem itself soared away and lit (her word) on a rock, alone, and looked at me with sunlight behind it and mockery between its claws. When a poem contains this much information and experience, I have to keep reading and re reading, clenching my small claws and hoping.

When she wrote lit instead of perched, that’s when the sunlight entered the cold, and the poem, and me. When she wrote swept stupidly, I stood still and admitted old age, a huge hot relief. This because it may be possible that I no longer have to stop the flow. When she wrote wrung, I saw the bird turn and turn again to give that ripple of solid sound. When she wrote supple, undammable, I saw bird muscle, throat muscle and opera and anger. Value and beauty are not ownable. They are beyond our hands. The last two lines won’t finish. They keep playing, calling on courage.  

This poem, if you allow it, is a massive experience.

Is this right? I don’t know. Kathleen Jamie is a master. She extracts and then sculpts what she wants to say. I am an amateur reader and can’t do that. But she makes me try hard and dig for it. Or the bird does. Something does.

Photography by Michael Woodruff

If possible, start each day reading a small piece of outstanding writing

Oxygen, by Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

Everything needs it: bone, muscles, and even,
while it calls the earth its home, the soul.
So the merciful, noisy machine

stands in our house working away in its
lung-like voice. I hear it as I kneel
before the fire, stirring with a

stick of iron, letting the logs
lie more loosely. You, in the upstairs room,
are in your usual position, leaning on your

right shoulder which aches
all day. You are breathing
patiently; it is a

beautiful sound. It is
your life, which is so close
to my own that I would not know

where to drop the knife of
separation. And what does this have to do
with love, except

everything? Now the fire rises
and offers a dozen, singing, deep-red
roses of flame. Then it settles

to quietude, or maybe gratitude, as it feeds
as we all do, as we must, upon the invisible gift:
our purest, sweet necessity: the air.

Painting by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912)