A while ago, I wrote about a teacher I had in junior high who required us to memorize poems– it was one of the greatest and most long-lasting gifts. At the end of that post, I reflected that, given how much it had meant to me, I thought it was high time I bring back the practice. I immediately went to one of my favorites, “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver and memorized the first half of it that same night in the bathtub. I never quite mastered the entire thing, although I plan to.
I wrote the poem onto the canvas of this painting before I started it. This painting, like all my paintings this month, is part of a pair– two paintings created side by side. On the second canvas, which will become tomorrow’s painting, I wrote just some of my favorite lines from the poem and let the paint strokes extend over onto it. By tomorrow I will complete it.
In these paintings, I reference a familiar scene that has shown up in my paintings many times– the bank of the Tchefuncte River in Madisonville, Louisiana. It’s a serene place from my childhood. It is part of what I think of when I think about where I’m from and where I fit into “the family of things.
by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.