It is four in the morning and I am thirty-five today. Has it really been that long? How have I arrived here without dying?

Most of my days in the past year have been filled with troubled things, and kind things, yet sometimes they have the same face. I often stumbled around in the dark then trying to identify which is which, the tips of my fingers tracing contours: this one brought me pain, and this one, and this one. This one brought me grace, and this one, and this one. Was it really a face or a flower shedding petals?

The Balanescu Quartet’s Waltz is playing on repeat. I used to think of this as my birth song. I probably still do. Or maybe a song that gave birth to versions of myself. The one who didn’t want to live. The one who refused to die. Imagine me waltzing. A most difficult dance to master.

Nine years ago I was thinking about taking my own life until someone threw poetry at me like an anchor, which it was. Year after year I ride the wave of blackness and cling to poems as if they were the only thing that will save me, and they did.

S. is in the hospital. Two weeks ago we were eating cake. Three nights ago her mother died. Two nights ago we had to call an ambulance. Last night her husband said, I need your prayers. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time, trying not to rehearse for grief. The only prayers I know are poems. And perhaps a litany of please please please please please.

Happy birthday, beautiful, he says. I know he believes it. You’re not allowed to be sad today, he says. I know he means it. You deserve to feel wanted, he says. Something good, I think. I must’ve done something good in my past life to have this.

These days my evenings blur into my mornings. I’m sat all night at my desk working for hours on end, trying to make ends meet, telling myself if I do this one thing, then I can do this other thing, and another, and another. Just pushing myself forward. Spending hours.

Of course I am astonished. Perhaps the poems weren’t the only thing keeping me from drowning. When I sit outside to watch the sunrise, when a laugh bubbles out of my lungs, when I cling to the hope that my friend will come home, when I sit barefoot listening to music while I write, when I am shy to want kisses but I ask them anyway—

Happy birthday, T., you old delirious fool. Sixteen years ago we started this place. Perhaps we save ourselves.

Mary Oliver

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had his hand in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel,
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it–
books, bricks, grief–
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled –
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply?

This is from Thirst: Poems by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press, 2006.

Here is one thing I know: when my dog jumps on me and ruins my dress I am at once horrified at the paw prints but also secretly happy at this sudden display of love.

Here is another thing I know: when I put socks on my father before he goes to sleep I am telling him everything I can’t say because we are two people inept at tenderness even if we have never shied away from each other’s embrace.

What I don’t know I am practising to be grateful for.

Mysteries, Yes
Mary Oliver

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
   to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
   mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
   in allegiance with gravity
      while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds will
   never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
   scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
   who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
   “Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
   and bow their heads.

This is from Evidence: Poems by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press, 2009.

A mantra for my life: Endure. Just that, an axis I could revolve around. As if the order of everything depends on my ability to dig in, and, on my chance that I buckle (I have weak knees), to stay there and get to know the earth.

It’s not just the one of course, but you know this: the words you pull out in the dark.

These days though: less is more. And yet more is more.

Maybe it’s time to think: Yield. Maybe it’s time to say: Surrender.

Mary Oliver


Something came up
out of the dark.
It wasn’t anything I had ever seen before.
It wasn’t an animal
or a flower,
unless it was both.

Something came up out of the water,
a head the size of a cat
but muddy and without ears.
I don’t know what God is.
I don’t know what death is.

But I believe they have between them
some fervent and necessary arrangement.


melancholy leaves me breathless…


Water from the heavens! Electricity from the source!
Both of them mad to create something!

The lighting brighter than any flower.
The thunder without a drowsy bone in its body.


Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

Two or three times in my life I discovered love.
Each time it seemed to solve everything.
Each time it solved a great many things
but not everything.
Yet left me as grateful as if it had indeed, and
thoroughly, solved everything.


God, rest in my heart
and fortify me,
take away my hunger for answers,
let the hours play upon my body

like the hands of my beloved.
Let the cathead appear again—
the smallest of your mysteries,
some wild cousin of my own blood probably—
some cousin of my own wild blood probably,
in the black dinner-bowl of the pond.


Death waits for me, I know it, around
one corner or another.
This doesn’t amuse me.
Neither does it frighten me.

After the rain, I went back into the field of sunflowers.
It was cool, and I was anything but drowsy.
I walked slowly, and listened

to the crazy roots, in the drenched earth, laughing and growing.

This is from Red Bird by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press, 2008.

Let’s try this again.

The truth is, I was confronted with the fact that the space I have created for myself is not invincible. It is a thing I had to digest for a while. I had thought myself under the radar, which was foolish. I spent eight years leaving this door open—I should have expected that what happened will happen, in whatever magnitude. I had left myself unprotected, is what I did, is what I’ve overlooked.

The truth is, I allowed it. Who was I kidding, in the end?

So what happens now? I will echo Louise Bourgeois: I do, I undo, I redo.

A quarter of my life was spent believing things I’ve been told I should believe. That was problematic, as I have an unnatural habit of asking questions at a young age. I suppose it was because I am a curious creature, but also because I was a child with an unnatural persistence (read: pesky). The how and why of things is important, and if people can’t tell me the answer, then I will endeavour to find out. I will gnaw at that bone until I am satisfied.

This quest, in the next few years, have brought me necessary grief, but also an unhealthy expectation for answers. Not having answers put me in a spiral of despair when I was in my teens. I was uncomfortable with the not knowing, for a while. It was supposed to be simple and quantitative: here is a question, and here is answer. I accept this, I don’t accept this.

It took me a long time to realise that the reason why I was getting all my answers was because I probably wasn’t asking enough questions. And when I started doing that—ask and ask and ask—my discontent multiplied tenfold. But so did my understanding of myself, my life, the world. (Is this too much to talk about at the beginning of the year?)

It was in the process of asking that I came upon a truth: that the unknown is an answer. That there are answers upon answers, and sometimes no questions at all.

Mostly, these days: I am unlearning and relearning. Mostly, these days: there are things I rely on, and people, too. And then there are things that I don’t know, and probably will never know, and that’s scary, but okay.

I am perhaps everything I’ve done and believed in, and not done and not believed in. You know?

So what happens now? I am thinking if the time for anonymity is over, and if I should start owning everything I’ve written here.

What have I got to be ashamed of, after all? Nothing, probably.

What have I got to lose? Some things. I think.

What am I afraid of? Oh, everything. Still.

There are things to consider, and think about, and it’s taking me some time to make up my mind. I mean: I contradict myself. It’s probably a matter of multiple selves arguing for a better position, a caucus that is difficult to please. So it might be a while before I finally decide what to do with this place (I have some ideas) but I have finally ran out of reasons to not write.

What happens now: I am trying this again. I might also move, but you’ll know about it. Or maybe I’ll bring together all the places where I am currently writing in, and just let you be pleasantly surprised.

(Or unpleasantly surprised, you never know.)

It’s not that I no longer care about keeping quiet in a corner undisturbed. Only I am thinking—perhaps my concerns eight years ago do not matter as much. That maybe—just maybe—I can say hello and you’ll say hello back.

It’s a new year. I have changed and I haven’t changed. Does that make sense?

Mostly: I believe in a lot of things. Poetry. The inside of a wrist. Mostly: I believe in little things. This place. You.


Mary Oliver

I go down to the edge of the sea.
How everything shines in the morning light!
The cusp of the whelk,
the broken cupboard of the clam,
the opened, blue mussels,
moon snails, pale pink and barnacle scarred—
and nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split,
dropped by the gulls onto the gray rocks and all the moisture gone.
It’s like a schoolhouse
of little words,
thousands of words.
First you figure out what each one means by itself,
the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop
       full of moonlight.

Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.

from Why I Wake Early: New Poems by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press, 2005.

What happened is, I sat on my desk yesterday and found that bits and pieces of my life were stolen.

I know no other way to say it except that. It feels a lot like someone is stealing my life, I wrote afterward to my friends, after an hour of leaning against the wall and trying to steady my breathing. Shaken, yes, that’s what I was. Words—all of this, here—this is who I am. Never mind the body, never mind the skin and bones and muscle—words, I am made of words. That’s my life, too, my whole fucking life: words.

What happened is, someone sent me a letter asking me to come back. Someone wrote me and said, your blog changed my life. He also said, I think you should know about this.

I know no other way to do it, and believe me I have spent the entire day mulling over what to do. I know no other way, do you see, except to reveal who you are, even if you might not have meant for things to happen the way they did, even if you did things with good intentions (I am trying to understand your actions when I say that).

I know no other way, and it is going to be painful for the both of us—it already is

What happened is, this blog—returntolive—copied a lot of what I have written here. And by ‘a lot’ I mean a lot. Try thirty entries. No, try more than that. Try entries written as far back as 2005. Try almost everything.

Let me be clear: the poems are yours as much as they are mine.

What I mean is, take them. What I mean is, read them, and read them again. What I mean is, hold them close to you, let them live under your skin. I have found these poems when I needed them. Your arrival here, your discovery of things that speak to you, that speak of who you are—who am I to deny such meeting?

Let me be clear: I have created this space to find myself. But you are here, dear reader, and you have stayed through all these years, and I recognise that. I recognise that this space is now yours, too, that we can be alone together here, that somehow we know each other even if we haven’t met, because poetry does that.

What I mean is: these poems have saved me. What I mean is, if they are going to save you, too, who am I to deny such opportunity? I want them to find their way to you, to your hands, by chance or choice. I want these poems to arrive at your life with bells ringing; I want you to feel alive, alive again. But I want these poems to sit quietly by your bed as well, and hold your hand when you feel you can’t get up, when you feel there is no meaning left in the world; I want you to know that you are not entirely by yourself, that someone loves you, that I love you, because what else is there to do in this life but love strangers who understand what it is to be utterly bereft?

These poems have saved me, and if they are going to save someone else—if they are going to save you—then take them. Let me be clear: I don’t care if you put them in your own blog, I don’t care if you send them to your lover, I don’t care if you share them with a friend, I don’t care if you tell them, I found this. Because you did. That’s the truth: I found them, but you found them, too.

What is important: to remember who wrote it. To remember who said those words that you now carry in your heart. To remember their names, and to remember them correctly. You have a responsibility now to get it right.

This is the least we can do: to remember who these poets are, to know that they wrote these words, so that the next time we speak of their work, their name would pass our lips as if a prayer of thanks.

I say Creeley, and I remember that pain is a flower. I say Walcott, and this comes back to me: You will love again the stranger who was your self. Reading someone else’s poems is, after all, all we’ve ever done, and I whisper, Light. Light.

But this person who kept that blog, is still keeping it—it’s protected now, “marked private by its owner”—also took my words.

Let me repeat what was written in the About page: “This blog is a collection of poems that speak to me, quotes that take my breath away, and my own writings/thoughts/poems.” Took them, collected them—it’s all semantics at this point, isn’t it. So let me say, took them, because that is what happened. My own words were taken, held in someone else’s possession, and were made to look like someone else wrote them.

My words, my thoughts, my sense of truth, my life. The things I wrote to accompany each poem were taken and made to fit someone else’s life. At least, that’s what it looked like, that’s what it felt like. I mean—it’s incredible.

To find a single, standalone post titled, “What brought you here?”, and know that I have written the exact same thing almost two years ago. To find another, titled “Not listening”, and know that I have written it almost eight years ago.

This hurts me, I told my friends. This hurts me terribly.

The wounds are deepest for things I have written when I was finally coming back to myself again, or when a great love broke my heart. Even my letters to all of you—like this one, or this one, or this one, or this one. All of it and more, taken.

All of it and more, copied and placed in a blog with no link back to where they were found. This person took and took and took, and in a matter of days, amassed a collection—and what a collection it is—of not only poems but life. My life. It almost felt like a dream, until it wasn’t.

Eight years I’ve been here. That’s a long time to be in one place. And yet, I admit, I confess, that the first question I asked myself as soon as I found out about all of this was not how did this happen?, but: is it time to leave?

I know I have thought about leaving a lot of times. Of packing up, of moving on somewhere else, of taking all of this with me, of emptying this place. You know this. You’ve witnessed it, how I turned inward, time and time again, how I wrote in the dark, in private, when it became too much. But then I always come back. Because it seems this is the one anchor I have that has never let me down. Because I have met versions of myself here, because it is proof that strangers who live on opposite sides of the world can become great friends, because one day in August, eight years ago, I posted the very first poem that spoke the truth of who I was: My heart had become very small; it took very little to fill it.

Nevertheless, when I read, I think you should know about this and consequently found out—I thought, I must leave.

I am thinking, who am I to be hurt over this? Do I even have the right to?

I am thinking, but what if I left and end up regretting it? And what happens now to you, to all of you, to all of this?

A friend said, the trouble is that this could always happen. And I know that, I absolutely know that. Because this is not the first time, and it will not be the last. But—things are different for me now. I’m more protective of what I write than when I was much younger, if that makes sense.

The magnitude of this—this incident, the scale of it—worries me. Eight years of reading and writing, and all it took to produce a mirror of this place was a few days.

Is it worth the risk of staying?

I am thinking, maybe nothing is ever mine.

I am thinking, isn’t everything borrowed? Certainly this time. Certainly my life. We are all of us borrowed, and when I say my life, I know it really means, this life that I was given, was allowed to have, for a little while. Even language, even words, even the mouth I use to speak my thoughts, even the hands I use to write what I feel. All of it lent to me, the moment I opened my eyes and started my journey in this world.

So what right have I to make a claim?

What right have I to say, this is mine, and you took it?

Return to live—that is what you have named your blog. Isn’t it funny that I have stayed quiet since June (writing here still, but where no one else can see), yet returned and resurfaced because of what you did?

If you must know, my friends wanted me to make a report, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Report—such an unpleasant word to me now. To give an account of what happened. To share the results of an investigation, a finding. To have you known, to expose you, to have someone shut you down, is what they tell me I should do, but in the process, I’ll have to announce my presence, too.

All night I pondered over this, what to do. Tested its weight, asking myself if it’s the only thing there is, and if it’s cruel. Asking myself if I can be kinder, if I can find another way to resolve it. I slept fitfully. And when I woke up, your blog has turned its back to the world.

Do I feel foolish, worrying all this time, only to be met with this today? Yes. Do I feel hurt still? Yes. Do I want to hear from you, hear your side of things? Yes, of course, yes. Do I think writing about this, writing about you, is difficult? Yes. Do I feel bad about it? God, yes. More than you’ll ever know.

But here we are. You led us here; you’ve got to admit that, at least. I know no other way to do it, because it all started here. I don’t even know your name.

I am thinking, maybe I’ve set myself up for all of this.

I am thinking, maybe nothing is ever mine.

The Arrowhead
Mary Oliver

The arrowhead,
which I found beside the river,
was glittering and pointed.
I picked it up, and said,
“Now, it’s mine.”
I thought of showing it to friends.
I thought of putting it—such an imposing trinket—
in a little box, on my desk.
Halfway home, past the cut fields,
the old ghost
stood under the hickories.
“I would rather drink the wind,” he said,
“I would rather eat mud and die
than steal as you steal,
than lie as you lie.”

From Wild Geese: Selected Poems by Mary Oliver, published by Bloodaxe Books, 2006.

I think I’m going crazy. I haven’t had proper coffee for days now and I feel like crawling out of my skin. Have you ever felt that?

A few weeks ago, my father and I had coffee. I told him how much I loved him by putting sugar in his cup. I didn’t think he noticed.

Once, I was not myself. I was so angry, and I couldn’t find the words. I open my mouth, close it, open it again. That was the point I understood what being speechless meant. My heart has robbed me from all thought, all language. I felt helpless. I threw things (mostly pencils). My sister told my father, “She’s not feeling very human right now.”

I am starting to write again. The door is open.

Reckless Poem
Mary Oliver

Today again I am hardly myself.
It happens over and over.
It is heaven-sent.

It flows through me
like the blue wave.
Green leaves — you may believe this or not —
have once or twice
emerged from the tips of my fingers

deep in the woods,
in the reckless seizure of spring.

Though, of course, I also know that other song,
the sweet passion of one-ness.

Just yesterday I watched an ant crossing a path, through the
         tumbled pine needles she toiled.
And I thought: she will never live another life but this one.
And I thought: if she lives her life with all her strength
         is she not wonderful and wise?
And I continued this up the miraculous pyramid of everything
         until I came to myself.

And still, even in these northern woods, on these hills of sand,
I have flown from the other window of myself
to become white heron, blue whale,
         red fox, hedgehog.
Oh, sometimes already my body has felt like the body of a flower!
Sometimes already my heart is a red parrot, perched
among strange, dark trees, flapping and screaming.

I am all melancholy and mellowed. It’s probably the wine. It’s nice here outside: the breeze is warm, the houses are still all lit. It’s one in the morning. I think. I’m full with food. And memories, and things left unsaid.

The stars are winking, as if to say, you can be happy, too, even if you’re sad. It’ll be our little secret. Yes, I’ll drink. Another glass for me and the sky. Another for you, dear reader, and for your hurts, and for your happiness. If I could give you a gift, this is it. Also, a kiss.

Happy Christmas.


I Ask Percy How I Should Live My Life
Mary Oliver

Love, love, love, says Percy.
And hurry as fast as you can
along the shining beach, or the rubble, or the dust.

Then, go to sleep.
Give up your body heat, your beating heart.
Then, trust.