What is it?

This morning after posting a photo of Jamshed’s door with its open wings and Knock Loudly sign, my partner reached for a lighter bit after heavy reading, and pulled out the book I took home after the last reading at his house, and read this.

What Is It?

Who can say,
is it a snowy egret
or a white flower

at the glossy edge
of the lily
and frog-filled pond?
Hours ago the orange sun

opened the cups of the lilies
and the leopard frogs
began kicking
their long muscles,

like little green dwarves
under the roof of the rich,
iron-colored water.

Now the soft
eggs of the salamander
in their wrappings of jelly
begin to shiver.

They’re tired of sleep.
They have a new idea.
They want to swim away
into the world.

Who could stop them?
Who could tell them
to go cautiously, to flow slowly
under the lily pads?

Off they go,
hundreds of them,
like the black
fingerprints of the rain.

The frogs freeze
into perfect five-fingered
shadows, but suddenly the flower
has fire-colored eyes

and one of the shadows vanishes.
Clearly, now, the flower is a bird.
It lifts its head,
it lifts the hinges

of its snowy wings,
tossing a moment of light
in every direction
like a chandelier,

and then once more is still.
The salamanders,
like tiny birds, locked into formation,
fly down into the endless mysteries

of the transforming water,
and how could anyone believe
that anything in this world
is only what it appears to be—

that anything is ever final—
that anything, in spite of its absence,
ever dies
a perfect death?

Mary Oliver House of Light Beacon Press: Boston 1990

I should know better by now, that a teacher’s reach extends infinitely in all directions, if you call on them for wit, wisdom or whimsy.


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