The Dreams of the Body

Everyone I love must love Mary Oliver. I have  no time for those who treat her with derision.

Mary Oliver

There is, all around us, 
this country 
of original fire. 
You know what I mean. 
The sky, after all, stops at nothing, so something 
has to be holding 
our bodies 
in its rich and timeless stables or else 
we would fly away. 

Off Stellwagen 
off the Cape, 
the humpbacks rise. Carrying their tonnage 
of barnacles and joy 
they leap through the water, they nuzzle back under it 
like children 
at play. 

They sing, too. 
And not for any reason 
you can’t imagine. 

Three of them 
rise to the surface near the bow of the boat, 
then dive 
deeply, their huge scarred flukes 
tipped to the air. 
We wait, not knowing 
just where it will happen; suddenly 
they smash through the surface, someone begins 
shouting for joy and you realize 
it is yourself as they surge 
upward and you see for the first time 
how huge they are, as they breach, 
and dive, and breach again 
through the shining blue flowers 
of the split water and you see them 
for some unbelievable 
part of a moment against the sky– 
like nothing you’ve ever imagined– 
like the myth of the fifth morning galloping 
out of darkness, pouring 
heavenward, spinning; then 

they crash back under those black silks 
and we all fall back 
together into that wet fire, you 
know what I mean. 

I know a captain who has seen them 
playing with seaweed, swimming 
through the green islands, tossing 
the slippery branches into the air. 
I know a whale that will come to the boat whenever 
she can, and nudge it gently along the bow 
with her long flipper. 
I know several lives worth living. 

Listen, whatever it is you try 
to do with your life, nothing will ever dazzle you 
like the dreams of your body, 
its spirit 
longing to fly while the dead-weight bones 
toss their dark mane and hurry 
back into the fields of glittering fire 
where everything, 
even the great whale, 
throbs with song 


  1. Sigh. Mary Oliver is the best.

  2. I love Mary Oliver, and one of my favorites is "Sleeping In The Forest."


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