Poem for my father’s ghost
by Mary Oliver
Now is my father
A traveler, like all the bold men
He talked of, endlessly
And with boundless admiration,
Over the supper table,
Or gazing up from his white pillow —
Book on his lap always, until
Even that grew too heavy to hold.
Now is my father free of all binding fevers.
Now is my father
Traveling where there is no road.
Finally, he could not lift a hand
To cover his eyes.
Now he climbs to the eye of the river,
He strides through the Dakotas,
He disappears into the mountains.
And though he looks
Cold and hungry as any man
At the end of a questing season,
He is one of them now.
He cannot be stopped.
Now is my father
Walking in the wind,
Sniffing the deep Pacific
That begins at the end of the world.
Vanished from us utterly,
Now is my father circling the deepest forest —
Then turning in to the last red campfire burning
In the final hills,
Where chieftains, warriors and heroes
Rise and make him welcome,
Recognizing, under the shambles of his body,
A brother who has walked his thousand miles.
In lieu of writing it down in a journal, I thought I’d document the fascinating story dream I had last night….
I was in a small town by an estuary, with my two small daughters on my back. There were lots of other people there, going about their business, and the dream opened with me standing outside on the quay, looking up at the sky as it streamed golden and black. The wind picked up, and I knew then that a huge storm was coming.
No one else seemed to have noticed the portents in the sky, or the chill of that wind, and so I began to hustle the people around me inside the nearest building, telling them over and over that we needed to take shelter. In the distance, the dark clouds roared closer, the golden light seemed to bring on an early dusk, and there was electricity in the air as the waters of the estuary began to ripple.
Finally, I got everyone inside. We watched from the windows of this old quay building as the sky rumbled and darkness came down the river like a tidal wave. I knew that this was going to be a terrible storm, and as the winds grew I began to think that we needed to get to higher ground.
We retreated up further into town, climbing the steep hill to it’s centre. Behind us I could hear the river beginning to rage and break it’s banks. Water started to come up the streets we had just walked up, sometimes spraying up into buildings as it rounded corners, chasing us higher. I begged everyone we came across to come with us and seek shelter as the waters rose behind us.
Finally, we were in the highest part of the town, surrounded by tall shops both new and old. I stood on the pavement and looked down towards the estuary, which was hidden behind the rows of buildings but clearly audible as a roar of water now. Suddenly, a torrent came around the road nearest to us, carrying upturned cars and rubbish with it as it swung almost to where we stood before gravity turned it back towards the river.
The next spray of waves came right over the roofs of the buildings across from us, only a little lower than where we stood, and I realised that the water wasn’t going to stop. It sprayed, then slopped, then gushed over the tops of the old terraced shops, while wave after waver rounded the corner of the road to pull more cars and trees away back to the flooding river.
There was no where else to go as I turned to see the first sprays of floodwater coming over the top of the modern glass building behind us, and I knew that we would all soon be swept away.
That’s when she appeared; a great giant of a woman, who stood to watch us all as though none of it affected her. I stepped closer to her, and saw the dark cloak, the high pale brow, the crone like hands, and I knew that she was the 13th fairy, Maleficent. And in another moment, I knew what I had to do. I stepped close to her, suddenly as tall as she was, and pulled her close to me.
And with a deep, tender kiss, I drew from her the power and the will to bring the storm. And I awoke.