Like An Iceberg Between The Shoulders

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By Carolyn Shields

Mary Oliver might have been the first poet I’ve ever really read. Though, in all honesty, I’ve probably only ever read about five poets, if Fulton Sheen counts. But I was drawn to Oliver’s simple style and her frequent use of natural things, like swans and mushrooms, thistles and breeze. Today she died, and I wanted to share an excerpt of her poem, ‘When Death Comes,’ during these barren months.

When death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.