after Mary Oliver
I read somewhere that you had died, Mary. I do not know if you had planned it this way,
or whether you feel it was perhaps too soon? Maybe you had intended to stroll idly
through those lush pulsating fields; feed the grasshopper once more
or visit the black bear. What else? Maybe the swans – that wedge you saw, moving white and firm and shrill across the afternoon sky – were singing for you?
When a pain maybe, sudden as a sniper’s bullet,
brutal as a land-mine discharging in the chest, caused your heart to stop?
My friend Aiina would have understood this. She could have related.
The first time she read The Summer Day, she learned it by heart
and recited it for her father, right before never seeing him again.
He had planned to be home by sunset. She kissed him on the cheek.
It was warm, she said, like flat bread from the oven.
Days later, before leaving Aleppo, she left a note on the front-door for him,
for her father, telling him all about her plans.
They drove in convoy toward the border and violently as your pain Mary,
a white pick-up rammed straight into them. Bam! One boy died.
They were told to get out and kneel-down in the grass.
They did not know if the soldiers had a plan.
When one moved his jaws up and down and asked her what her name was,
she asked him what it was he planned to do with his one wild and precious life.
When he shot her uncle, she knew.
He fell hard she said, like an oak in Massachusetts. It was a sound she would never forget,
although she had planned to. Because her mother screamed, he shot her as well;
right between her enormous complicated eyes.
Her mother knew exactly what a prayer was
but she wasn’t paying attention, and nobody blessed her.
Aiina had planned to forget that too.
She asked me once if I thought the dead could be disappointed.
Because in those first weeks without their mother, she and her sister were so hungry,
they ate whatever they could find. That included grasshoppers. Big ones.
They snapped their wings off and chewed them like candy.
She asked her sister once, what it was she had planned to do with her one wild and precious life. Her sister told her to shut-up. Plans are the pleasures of privileged poets, not Syrian orphans rummaging in Turkish rubbish bins. They don’t even know we’re alive, she said.
Now you’re dead, you will never know that Aiina lived, nor how hard she tried
to answer your question. She knew this much: that if she ever made a plan again,
Allah would laugh all over it. Even the best made ones go wrong.
She knew this too because her sister always talked about having a plan B.
And while we make plans, John Lennon said, life happens.
So too – as you and I and he and she know – does death.
As it goes, Aiina’s one and only wild and precious life, was the blueprint for a lonely house.
The rooms were always empty. Guests made plans to come but never arrived
and the summer day, Mary, was always coming to an end.
Link to original Mary Oliver poem:
Tracy Gaughan is a writer and workshop facilitator from Galway, Ireland. She presents the popular arts show ‘WestWords’ on local community radio and recently completed an MA in International Contemporary Literature and Media at the National University of Ireland, Galway.