this must be shared – from Mary Oliver

Leda and the Swan


From Mary Oliver’s book, Winter Hours

The Swan

Years ago I set three “rules” for myself. Every poem I write, I said, must have a genuine body, it must have sincere energy, and it must have a spiritual purpose. If a poem to my mind failed any one of these categories it was rebuked and redone, or discarded. Over the forty or so years during which writing poems has been my primary activity, I have added other admonitions and consents. I want every poem to “rest” in intensity,. I want  it to be rich with pictures of the world. I want it to carry threads from the perceptually felt world to the intellectual world. I want each poem to indicate a life lived with intelligence, patience, passion, and whimsy (not my life – not necessarily! – but the life of my formal self, the writer).
I want the poem to ask something and, at its best moments, I want the question to remain unanswered. I want it to be clear that answering the question is the reader’s part in an implicit author-reader pact. Last but not least, I want the poem to have a pulse, a breathiness, some moment of earthly delight. (While one is luring the reader into the enclosure of serious subjects, pleasure is by no means an unimportant ingredient.)
“The Swan” has some of these qualities. It has as well a “secret” humor; I was watching geese not swans when I began the poem – that is, thought of the poem, felt it in concept, and wrote down a few lines. Since I had only recently written a poem about geese, I thought I would intensify the poem’s display, and make something even fancier than wild geese out of the beautiful bird shapes I was watching. I thought this fairly funny, and I remember it was therefore with a certain light-hearted pleasure that I proceeded with the description. Though unknown as a fact to the reader, I don’t wonder at all if my mood attuned me more finely than otherwise to my work – I am sure it did.
The form was no problem – long sentences and short lines, a little enjambment to keep things going (the swan is in motion) but not too much, so that the lines, like the swan’s movements are decisive, and keep their dignity. Take out some commas for smoothness and because almost every poem in the universe moves too slowly. Then, once the “actual” is in place (in words), begin to address the reason for taking the reader’s good and valuable time – invite the reader to want to do something beyond merely receiving beauty, and to configure in his or her own mind what that might be. Make sure there is nothing in the poem that would keep the reader from becoming the speaker of the poem. And, that’s all. The final phrase – “touch the shore” – is vital; it is a closure yet it is also a moment of arrival, and therefore a possible new beginning.
The poem in which the reader does not feel himself or herself a participant is a lecture, listened to from an uncomfortable chair, in a stuffy room, inside a building. My poems have all been written – if not finished at least started – somewhere out-of-doors: in the fields, on the shore, under the sky. They are not lectures. The point is not what the poet would make of the moment but what the reader would make of it. If the reader accepts and thinks about its question, “The Swan” accomplishes what it set out to do.

The Swan

Across the wide waters
something comes
floating – a slim
and delicate

ship, filled
with white flowers –
and it moves
on its miraculous muscles

as though time didn’t exist,
as though bringing such gifts
to the dry shore
was a happiness

almost beyond bearing.
And now it turns its dark eyes,
it rearranges
the clouds of its wings,

it trails
an elaborate webbed foot,
the color of charcoal.
Soon it will be here.

Oh, what shall I do
when that poppy-colored beak
rests in my hand?
Said Mrs. Blake of the poet:

I miss my husband’s company –
he is so often
in paradise.
Of course! the path to heaven

doesn’t lie down in flat miles.
It’s in the imagination
with which you perceive
this world,

and the gestures
with which you honor it.
Oh, what will I do, what will I say, when those
white wings
touch the shore?

painting, “Leda and The Swan”   Pam White

When My Mother Was Young


This isn’t a photo of my mother – it’s DeAnna Pellecchia from Paula’s company – but it is one of her dreams. Though never on the stage, she had a stage name. Paula Warren. Yes, it’s funny and that isn’t the only thing that she and Paula shared – Paula picked that name too – they shared a love of fabric and movement, placement of all things bright and beautiful. When something new would come into my life that my mother liked, she would say, “I bet Paula picked that out.”

Even though life with my mother wasn’t easy, she was fascinating and she enjoyed being difficult. I liked that about her and wrote this poem imagining a relationship with her that was less separate than the one we actually had. When in doubt, make it up!

No Dust In Her Eyes

Mother, I remember the sweet red smell of your Dentyne
As I sat in the backseat of the Roadster. You are always
In front of me, your hair flap-flying back from your face,
Cherry red lips and teeth so white clench an extendable gold
Cigarette holder. Smell of leather, gas and your Arpege, the wind
Whipping sitting up or quiet down along the seat. The fields swell before us,
The road snakes miles before a cross comes where you
Honk a warning and hope someone will see your dust.

Remember This

Theodore Roethke

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood–
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.
What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks–is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.
A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is–
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.
Dark,dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.


The Animal Inside

The lively world of our emotions, fears and responses is like a great forest with its fauna. We experience those feelings as though they were wild animals bolting through the foliage of our thick being, timidly peering out in alarm or slyly slinking and cunningly stalking, linking us to our unknown selves…                               Paul Shepard

The animal inside is outside too.
The wrangler, the poet, the fireman
all live in the animal world of the amygdala,
thriving in daily contact with themselves.
Connection takes more thought, perhaps involving
the cortex, but who’s counting?
When I am who I am, who am I?
Humans love these witticisms. I am human.
I indulge in a sundae of disconnected thought
irreverent and showing such a care of words
that I could be a pastor of the craft were I to study
more but the animal inside won’t let me.

all images and poems   Pam White












Let Go


What do you live with every day?
What lives in you?
The thrust of the bird through the air,
The storm coming,
A date late, time given up.
Do you hope you’ll be given
Something to take home?
A golden retriever of dreams.
The net cast around the treasure?
Are these the stuff of your dreams?
Dare you hope for what is real?
For what is here? For what you
Could be? The mechanics of want,
The stomach’s growl, mind open.
Where did you put the pencil,
The paint of your dreams
When did you let go?

Let There Be

Let there be space in your togetherness

Let the winds of the heavens dance between you

Love one another but make not a bond of love

Let it rather be a  moving sea between the shores of your souls

Kahlil Gibran


can’t think about this quote too much and when I took this photograph in the rain of the day and the trees and the raindrops and all the brambles were themselves, each one enough, each one, each one


All the news I need

Is your breath

Each one of you

Out There, in Here

Your breath is what makes my day

Your breath is my news.

When there is a break in the chains of breaths

I feel it

When disaster comes, happiness

Slow or fast, I feel it.

I can tell when I breathe in

I can tell when I breathe out

You are breathing with me, we share the air.

Don’t talk to me. Don’t yell at me. Don’t tell me anything.

I know it all as long as we are breath to breath.