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Blackbird singing in the dead of night, so addressed the poet/musician Paul McCartney to this harbinger of spring, with its rich flute-like trills. Then, he unleashed his response to police forcibly removing a black woman from the white section of a New York restaurant in 1968. Moving back from his hotel window across the street, he continued writing.

A close look at the words chosen for this song-poem evidenced Paul’s artistry: This was not your usual blackbird; in the UK, the words bird and girl were used interchangeably, so the victim in the fracas morphed into blackbird whose spirit sang, no matter the violence fraught with death. Years of such bludgeoning no longer mattered and spawned more protest marches.

Only visionaries intuit patterns for critical change, and McCartney’s revolutionary paradoxes sought to fulfill this purpose:

Take these broken wings and learn to fly.

Take these sunken eyes and learn to see.

The mandate to receive these gifts, despite their uselessness, and learn different ways of empowerment and vision was clear. Precisely in their woundedness, they would find healing, through their imaginations. It would be their experience.

Indeed,

All your life/you were only waiting for this moment to come.

That moment has come and gone. Not much has changed, or so it seems. Ensuing betrayals and tribulations have scarred hearts, that is true, but more learning to fly and see continue among us.

And the mandate still holds:  

Blackbird fly/ Into the light of the dark black of night.

Within that paradox, LIFE abounds … and always has.

At 4:30 A.M., I awoke with this dream:

I’ve been invited to the University of Dublin to lecture on my favorite poet. Many students crowd the conference room. I’m surprised by their interest as my grasp of the subject matter is thin. I don’t even mention the name of the poet. Some take notes.

This curious dream is the first after weeks of waking with pieces of them, resembling Campbell’s Alphabet Soup: none made sense. A new medication seems to be messing with my REM or fifth sleep cycle from which dream stories emerge. This one has a bit of story.

My psyche places me on the campus of the University of Dublin, keen on academic research and innovation since its 1592 foundation by Queen Elizabeth I. Such a venue places me at the cusp of new learning, the challenge of each twenty-four hours allotted me before my transition. Never have I been so enthusiastic about learning. The setting also recalls my Irish roots, steeped in hardship.

For some reason, my favorite poet suggests my inner poet, undeveloped and left alone, a task perceived as too daunting whenever I did review journals of poetry. Classes did not light my fire. Yet, she is there, despite not knowing her true name, and I’ve an appreciative audience.

That my presentation feels thin suggests my rush to assimilate fresh materials rather than to relish them, to allow them root-room to grow and become something else, then, to share with others.

All the more important to trust this process, already well underway. My Teacher knows what I really need. It’s about surrendering.

A well-crafted poem is a world unto itself: each word crafted upon the anvil of precision, then blasting psychic space for the inexperienced.

Such was my experience reflecting upon the poem, “We Should Be Well Prepared,” found in Mary Oliver’s collection, Red Bird (2008), fitting end-of-the-year advice for us all. It’s about endings that stay ended.

What a subject, you might ask? Only Oliver’s acute sensitivity and observation, honed since a child, taught her to voice the inexpressible, in the multi-valiance of life teeming around her. Therein, she dipped into the pool of metaphor and the ordinary became extraordinary.

So in this poem, she selected nine metaphors that brush the reality of death, inherent in all created life, and invited us to look with her: the plovers’ cry of goodbye, the stare of the dead fox, the falling of leaves and long wait for their return, the ended relationship, the effects of mold and sourness upon foods, the rushing of river water and days – “…never to return.”

The final metaphor bites hard:

         “The way somebody comes back, but only in a dream.”

Whatever shape our diminishment comes, it will come. Mary Oliver’s life-long experience reflects her commendable attitude and willingness to teach others. I’m sure she was well prepared the moment of her last breath, January 17, 2019.

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