Poem of the Month: In Blackwater Woods, Mary Oliver

Journalverse began in the blazing colors of autumn, and it retires in the same season, with the trees turning “their own bodies/into pillars of light.” This poignant poem by Mary Oliver, a personal favorite, holds all the complexity of beginnings and endings and the “three things” we “must be able to do.” I offer it with profound gratitude for your participation in Journalverse. May we reconvene as Journalversity!

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

–Mary Oliver (American Primitive, 1983)

Journal Prompts:

  • Describe the trees in your neighborhood at the height of color. If you live where trees stay green year-round, write about the subtle shifts from summer to autumn.
  • How are you at letting go?
  • What is something you’re letting go of right now? Write a goodbye letter.
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