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A Summer Day by Mary Oliver

A Poem

[full text available on-line]

She begins—the first six lines:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand . . .

The shift between the third and the fourth lines is what first snags my attention here—from the grasshopper to this grasshopper.  The one eating sugar out of her hand.  Who does that?  Puts sugar in their hand to feed grasshoppers?  Did she really do that?  Does she really do that?  Maybe it was accidental.  Maybe she’d just been eating a pixy stick.  But I like to think she—the speaker in the poem—put sugar in her hand with some intent.  Like St. Francis.  Or the guy in San Francisco, Mark Bittner, who put out sunflower seeds for the wild parrots and then stood very very still and paid close attention and then, one by one, they agreed to eat out of his hand.

(Mary Oliver reminds me a bit of Mark Bittner.  That same—-something.  An absence of self-consciousness?  A stillness?  A sense of contemplation in the midst of creatures?)

The poem continues.  A defense of such contemplations.  Keeping company with grasshoppers.  Kneeling in the grass.  Solitary walks.

Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

And then, finally, opening up and out, like that shift in her poem about the wild geese, the wild entering the poem—–the question with which she leaves us——

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?