The Prompter Room

For Friday, January 18, 2019:


For those who don’t know, beloved poet Mary Oliver passed from this mortal plane on January 17th from lymphoma.  She will be missed, but at least we have her words still.  Let’s honor her, her life, her words by taking walks among the oaks and beeches, on the beach, along the edges of a pond, by listening to a grasshopper and a bear and the deer, singing with a mockingbird, whispering to the geese as they fly to heaven.


… When it’s over, I want to say all my life/I was a bride married to amazement …

Mary Oliver (1935-2019), ‘When Death Comes’


For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, some-thing as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.

Mary Oliver



The Prompter Room

For Friday, December 7, 2018:


It has frequently been remarked, about my own writings, that I emphasize the notion of attention. This began simply enough: to see that the way the flicker flies is greatly different from the way the swallow plays in the golden air of summer. It was my pleasure to notice such things, it was a good first step. But later, watching M. [Molly Malone Cook] when she was taking photographs, and watching her in the darkroom, and no less watching the intensity and openness with which she dealt with friends, and strangers too, taught me what real attention is about. Attention without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness — an empathy — was necessary if the attention was to matter … Then M. instilled in me this deeper level of looking and working, of seeing through the heavenly visibles to the heavenly invisibles …

Mary Oliver, OUR WORLD

The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, January 3, 2017:


… [F]irst and foremost, I learned from [Walt] Whitman that the poem is a temple – or a green field- a place to enter, and in which to feel.  Only in a secondary way is it an intellectual thing – an artifact, a moment of seemly and robust wordiness – wonderful as that part of it is.  I learned that the poem was made not just to exist, to speak – to be company.  It was everything that was needed, when everything was needed …

Mary Oliver, UPSTREAM: Selected Essays

The Prompter Room

For December 30, 2016:


… And this is also true.  In creative work – creative work of all kinds – those who are the world’s working artists are not trying to help the world go around, but forward.  Which is something altogether different from the ordinary.  Such work does not refute the ordinary.  It is, simply, something else.  Its labor requires a different outlook – a different set of priorities.  Certainly there is within each of us a self that is neither a child, nor a servant of the hours.  It is a third self, occasional in some of us, tyrant in others.  This self is out of love with the ordinary; it is out of love with time.  It has a hunger for eternity.

Mary Oliver, UPSTREAM (pgs. 26-27)

The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, September 27, 2016:

[Please note that the original poem is formatted into couplets, but for some reason WordPress won’t let me follow that formatting (I tried three times).  As you read, then, allow yourself a bit of breath time after every two lines to follow Oliver’s original intent for this beautiful composition.]


“Fall Song,” by Mary Oliver

Another year gone, leaving everywhere

its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply

in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island

of this summer, this Now, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering

in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries – roots and sealed seeds

and the wanderings of water.  This

I try to remember when time’s measure

painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing

to stay – how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever

in these momentary pastures.

The Prompter Room

For Sunday, April 17, 2016:


“It must be a great disappointment/to God if we are not dazzled at least ten/times a day.”

Mary Oliver – ‘Good Morning,’ BLUE HERON (2014)

Denizens of the North Country know to take advantage of nice days when they come along.  Today is one of those times.  Though our winter was milder than usual – thank goodness – it was still winter.  It was still cold, the ground was hard, and I stayed inside.

Today, though, the sky is a vibrant blue, and the sun is warm and bright.  Already the birds have been singing and calling, the neighborhood cats have frolicked through the yards chasing leaves and each other, a small white moth fluttered by.  Even the two resident dogs want to be outside as much as possible, just soaking it all in.

So I’m going to open windows and doors onto this dazzling day, take a sabbath rest from words to putz and putter out in the yard, and air out the house and me, for spring has reached the North Country.  I will touch the yielding earth, greet the return of green shoots, prepare some seed beds, maybe move some mulch around, join the dogs on the porch and follow their example.

This is such a fertile time, I fully expect some new words will burst forth from the seeds of this rest.  In the meantime, I hope your day is just as dazzling, wherever you are.

The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, March 1, 2016:


“Instructions for living a life: Pay attention.  Be astonished.  Tell about it.”

Mary Oliver

A few minutes ago, I stood at a window and watched and listened to a Carolina wren, perched on the top rim of the chiminea in the yard, sing his first song of spring.  I’ve heard the wrens sing plenty of times, but I’ve never seen one sing before.

It was a case of being in the right place at the right time, I guess.  The TV is muted, the heat system wasn’t roaring, there were no neighborhood noises or dogs barking, and I happened to walk by the window just as the wren started to sing.  I didn’t expect to see him so close to the house and it took me a minute to find him.  Except when they’re here for food, they’ve always been hidden from sight, usually in the underbrush across the street, so I looked over there first – but when I did, I just stood at the window and watched.

As the plump little guy sang, the white on his throat billowed out above his rust-colored breast feathers.  Each crystal note of his song carried bright through the cold air into the house, and I watched as he moved around the rim to reach all the directions.  He sang from his perch for almost five minutes.

This little interlude is thrilling: not only did I see the male as he sang, this is the first time he’s performed in this yard.  I hope that means he intends to nest here – what a delight that would be.  It also means that the spring mating season has begun, so spring must be close on its heels.

I’m a big believer in gazing out windows every chance I get.  I’ve seen beautiful and unexpected things by so doing.  Sometimes fleeting glimpses truly are ‘right place, right time’ occurrences, but if our eyes aren’t trained outside, even those are gone, with no one to remark on them or to give thanks for them.

So I make it a habit to stand or sit at each window here in the house for as long as I can at least once a day and just watch.  Even if I don’t see anything, it gets me on my feet and clears my brain.

I recommend it highly – and every once in a while something astonishing happens.  Now there’s a song in my heart to start this beautiful day, thanks to a cheeky and plump little brown job of a wren.