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Mary Oliver has won a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

‘Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?’ is a line that appears near the conclusion of Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day,” collected in New and Selected Poems (1992). This response speaks to my present circumstances.

Oliver’s rumination of a grasshopper eating sugar from out of her hand in a grassy meadow opens the existential question: How did the world around us happen? What is our part, given the mortality of all the living? How to participate when it will all end?

The specificity of this grasshopper jawing the treat, gazing at the crumbles with huge eyes, washing her face with forearms, then flitting off suggests full participation in the present moment—as if each present moment, like the sugar particles, has its sweetness that opens onto even fuller life or ends it. Either way, individuation abounds or transition concludes with the death of the physical body.

In my perception, Oliver seems to have been well practiced in the gentle discipline of the present moment, a skill that grounded her within the energy of Creator God ever fashioning multiple expanding universes, one in which this grasshopper met a poet.

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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