‘Red Bird Explains Himself’
(From Mary Oliver’s Red Bird Poems)
Yes, I was the brilliance floating over the snow, and I was the song in the summer leaves, but this was only the first trick I had hold of among my other mythologies, for I also knew obedience: bringing sticks to the nest, food to the young, kisses to my bride.
But don’t stop there, stay with me: listen
If I was the song that entered your heart then I was the music of your heart, that you wanted and needed, and thus wilderness bloomed there, with all its followers: gardeners, lovers, people who weep for the death of rivers.
And this was my true task, to be the music of the body. Do you understand? for truly the body needs a song, a spirit, a soul. And no less, to make this work, the soul has need of a body, and I am both of the earth and I am of the inexplicable beauty of heaven where I fly so easily, so welcome, yes, and this is why I have been sent, to teach this to your heart.
In my book, I wrote about a red bird, a cardinal I named Isaiah because of his singular song. I wait for him now, for November is when he first sang for me. Mary Oliver’s Red Bird poems sing hosannas in each carefully crafted word of her poetry. I chose this poem because its music stirs the soul, and Red Bird teaches us about our hearts. So many hearts ache today with sorrow and pain: there are too many angels on the streets of heaven.
We are beyond a surreal election yet remain tethered to challenges and difficulties across our nation and the globe. What I’m about to say is not intentionally insensitive to anyone’s pain. It is, perhaps, when I’ve said what I have to say, a poor attempt at helping others look through a different lens, another point-of-view. This long season of trials is impermanent; they are, sadly, part of the dance of life. And that is why life itself is both unbearable yet beautiful.
No longer do flowers, greenery, butterflies grace our days as November lays bare the marrow of our landscape. Leafless trees appear skeletal and creature-like. The absence of color reveals a monochromatic terrain in varying hues of brown. Yet, there is beauty in this uncovered simplicity. My eyes find rest. My brain no longer swirls like a whirling dervish. Nature speaks: It is time to rest. It is time to gather into ourselves.
The spirals of energies in our country and around the world are unsettled. Many find solace in work, a spiritual life, and in gratitude to be alive when life has become so threatened, so fragile.
I find my calm in nature, especially when November arrives. Clarity and truth stand resolute in the bones of nature’s architecture, the essence of creation. And when cold rain runs in rivulets down my windows, I give gratitude for its cleansing the land.
On a recent early morning walk, daylight danced between the sun and clouds. I pondered the graceful balletic formation of tree limbs, other branches more like spires reached straight for the heavens, and some old, thick boughs stood firm with many stories to tell. I found beauty in tree bark that it is not gray if you closely observe: indeed, it has hues of color.
Another image honors a Thanksgiving ritual of three ‘blessing candles’ used to light and send blessings on things I feel are essential in the given year. I witnessed a sunset I never realized was there to see! There is a Sumi-e ink painting, the Ensō circle. I know I’ll not master this form, yet I continue, nonetheless. And that is okay. It is, after all, in the doing.
Life is unbearable at times, and yet, beauty is a constant. When Red Bird said, and I am both of the earth, and I am of the inexplicable beauty of heaven, know that we are too.
I pray this Thanksgiving and weekend are peaceful, happy, and filled with abundant hope. And, for anyone who has lost a loved one, may their memory be a blessing.