The Friday Poem ‘Why I Wake Early’ by Mary Oliver

The first Friday Poem of 2018 is for the early risers, the folks who ‘seize the day’ as first light tints the sky in pastels. Poet Mary Oliver shares ‘Why I Wake Up Early’.

“Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.”

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety–

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light–
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

Mary Oliver   ‘Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver’ Penguin Press, 2017

9780399563249

The Friday Poem: ‘The Boss’ by Deborah Garrison

One of the most important workplace relationships is the one between you and your direct supervisor. A good ‘boss’ will quickly sense your potential and connect your talents with work that challenges and enables professional growth. He/she employs personal experience to communicate the value of failure along with success. A good boss has a high EQ and a healthy dose of empathy for all.

For this week’s Friday Poem, a meditation on ‘The Boss’ through the eyes of poet Deborah Garrison.

The Boss

A firecracker, even after middle age

set in, a prince of repression

in his coat and tie, with cynical words

 

for everything dear to him.

Once I saw a snapshot of the house

he lives in, its fence painted

 

white, the flowers a wife

had planted leaning into the frame

on skinny stalks, shaking little pom-poms

 

of color, the dazzle all

accidental, and I felt

a hot, corrective

 

sting: our lives would never

intersect. At some point

he got older, trimmer, became

 

the formidable man around the office.

His bearing upright, what hair he has

silver and smooth, he shadows my doorway,

 

jostling the change in his pocket –

milder now, and mildly vexed.

The other day he asked what on earth

 

was wrong with me, and sat me down

on his big couch, where I cried

for twenty minutes straight,

 

snuffling, my eyeliner

betraying itself in the stained

tears. Impossible to say I was crying

 

because he had asked. He passed

tissues, at ease with the fearsome

womanly squall that made me alien

 

even to myself. No, it didn’t make him

squirm. Across his seventy years,

over his glasses, he eyed me kindly,

 

and I thought what countless scenes

of tears, of love revealed

he must have known.

 

Deborah Garrison   ‘A Working Girl Can’t Win’ 1998

a working girl can't win

Click on this link to hear the author read the poem as part of a 1999 interview with Bill Moyers.

“In this episode of Sounds of Poetry, Garrison tells Bill that poetry is about “trying to find a way to understand and describe the world that lifts you a little bit out of it, instead of just being in it and being lost.”

The Saturday Read – J.K. Rowling and Anna Quindlen

When the jacaranda trees are in bloom in Los Angeles you know spring has arrived in this seemingly seasonless place. You notice SIG Alerts on the freeways at odd times of the day until you see groups of folks in gowns and mortarboards being trailed by family bearing great loads of floral bouquets. Commencement time has come and with it, the famous, to deliver advice and receive honorary degrees.

And sometimes, the words spoken at these events are shared across social media, eventually catching the eye of a publisher. In 2000, it was the speech that was never delivered to the Villanova University graduating class by Anna Quindlen that found its’ way onto book shelves two years later as ‘A Short Guide to a Happy Life’. Last month J. K. Rowling‘s 2008 Harvard speech, ‘The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination’ has been published as ‘Very Good Lives’.

There was a time in my career when I worked in a building just north of Coney Island in Brooklyn. My favorite part of Ms. Quindlan’s book is the story at the end:

“I found one of my best teachers on the boardwalk at Coney Island many years ago, it was December and I was doing a story about how the homeless suffer in the winter months. He and I sat on the edge of the wooden supports, dangling our feet over the side, and he told me about his schedule, panhandling the boulevard when summer crowds were gone, sleeping in a church when the temperature went below freezing, hiding from the police amid the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Cyclone and some of the other seasonal rides. 

But he told me most of the time he stayed on the boardwalk, facing the water, just the way we were sitting now, even when it got cold and he had to wear his newspapers after he read them. And I asked him why. Why didn’t he go to one of the shelters? Why didn’t he check himself into the hospital for detox?

And he stared out at the ocean and said, “Look at the view, young lady. Look at the view.”

And every day, in some little way, I try to do what he said. I try to look at the view. That’s all. Words of wisdom from a man with not a dime in his pocket, no place to go, nowhere to be. Look at the view. When I do what he said, I am never disappointed.”

I first saw a video of J.K. Rowling’s address with a group of students one evening at a black women’s sorority event. These were Ms. Rowling’s first readers, the women who waited in long lines with their parents, some in costume in anticipation of the newest Harry Potter release. Here was J.K.Rowling who appeared on lists of the wealthiest and most successful. On that spring morning in Cambridge she shared her personal story of failure and imagination.

“I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years that have expired between that day and this.

I have come up with two answers. On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called ‘real life’, I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

Now you might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I personally will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”

Most of us don’t remember who spoke at our graduation. Some of us didn’t attend. But all of us can reflect on the words in both speeches and find a kernel to motivate and inspire. For me, it’s paying attention and never closing a door to a conversation that could resonate for a lifetime. It’s the thing that makes us different, empathy. And it’s the stories, always the life stories, where we find wisdom.