Poem of the Month, Sept 2014: In Blackwater Woods, Mary Oliver

Poem of the Month


The poem of the month for September is dedicated to my sweet mom, who peacefully passed away on August 22 at the age of 91. My two sisters and I were with her. As it always does in difficult times, poetry came to me and walked beside me. The last stanzas of this poem were my mantra in those last days, and every day since.



In Memorium

Theda June Adams

Theda J Adams PRIMARY(1)

June 4, 1923-Aug 22, 2014

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
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:

  • What feels nameless to you?
  • What or who do you “hold…/ against your bones knowing/your own life depends on it”?
  • What is your experience of letting go? Do you release? Do you quit? Do you hold on?
  • Write a letter to someone or something you loved that was mortal.
  • Write about a time you let go.





10 Responses to Poem of the Month, Sept 2014: In Blackwater Woods, Mary Oliver

  1. Linda Joy Myers September 3, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

    Blessings to you and your family, and thank you for sharing this timeless and inspiring poem to remind us all of the fleeting illuminated life we have and how we must love no matter the losses that will come.
    -Linda Joy

  2. Mary Kenney September 4, 2014 at 5:01 am #

    Kay, I just read now about the passing of your dear Mom. Please know you are in my prayers during this sad time. The poem you dedicate to her this month is so poignant and meaningful. She lived a long life but that realization doesn’t diminish your sadness – you’ve had her a longer time!!! Be well, my friend, and may you feel that “Healing Presence” in the days and months that follow!
    I send my love. Love, Mary

  3. Karyl Howard September 4, 2014 at 7:14 am #

    Oh, Kay, I am so sorry to read this news. May her memory live on in your heart and mind and bring you peace, love and blessings.

  4. Susan Embry September 4, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

    Dearest Kay, I am so sorry to hear of your mother’s passing. I know how close you were and how proud she has been as one of your biggest supporters. The poem is a loving memorial to her. I send prayers and blessings for all the beautiful memories you made together.
    Love and a big hug, Susan

  5. Karen Harvey September 4, 2014 at 6:15 pm #

    I’m so sorry to hear of your loss Kay. It must have been very comforting for your mom to have you and your sisters beside her at the end of her journey. This beautiful poem is so fitting. I send my love to you and you family and will remember you all in my prayers.

  6. Anne Randolph September 9, 2014 at 7:41 am #

    Hi Kay, I wanted to let you know that I am thinking of you at this sad time. What a lovely poem and what a lovely mom. Thanks for honoring her this way. Many blessings, Anne

    • Kathleen Adams September 9, 2014 at 7:58 am #

      Thanks to each of you who has reached out with compassion. I’m back at work now and so grateful, as always, to have wonderful work to do and wonderful people to do it with.

  7. Nancy Arbuthnot September 10, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

    I’ve been thinking about you and your sisters and your mother a lot since I visited with Susie in Denver right before your mother died. How wonderful that you were all able to be there with her at the end. Please accept my sympathy–and my thanks for sharing Mary Oliver’s moving poem.

  8. Jennifer Getsinger August 23, 2015 at 2:32 pm #

    Thanks Kay! What serendipity! Last week at our Unitarian Church in Vancouver, our visiting minister Rev. David Johnson read this poem, and I wanted to send a copy to my daughter. Your site came up, and it is perfect for showing my daughter that other mother – daughter pairs love each other by sending poetry and love notes.

    You might remember me from a journaling conference in Denver a few years ago; also an learning-admirer of Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea.

    • Kathleen Adams August 23, 2015 at 3:29 pm #

      Jennifer, of course I remember you–and with more serendipity, I hope you’ll be happy to hear that we’re doing another Journal Conference May 19-22 near Asheville, NC! I’m hoping Christina and Ann will be there to do pre-conference workshops. Wonderful to hear from you.

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