The kind of story we need right now

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The Sunflowers, by Mary Oliver

Come with me

into the field of sunflowers.

Their faces are burnished disks,

their dry spines

creak like ship masts,

their green leaves,

so heavy and many,

fill all day with the sticky

sugars of the sun.

Come with me

to visit the sunflowers,

they are shy

but want to be friends;

they have wonderful stories

of when they were young —

the important weather,

the wandering crows.

Don’t be afraid

to ask them questions!

Their bright faces,

which follow the sun,

will listen, and all

those rows of seeds —

each one a new life!

hope for a deeper acquaintance;

each of them, though it stands

in a crowd of many,

like a separate universe,

is lonely, the long work

of turning their lives

into a celebration

is not easy. Come

and let us talk with those modest faces,

the simple garments of leaves,

the coarse roots in the earth

so uprightly burning.

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Say you were invited to hold a sunflower, and examine it, while reading and thinking about these words in Mary Oliver’s poem. Say you were invited to respond by asking questions of the sunflower, or listening to the sunflower ask you questions. What would come into your mind, and onto the page? On Friday evening, outside around a fire pit, my friend Jen led a small group of us in this meditation. It was already, newly dark, and we used cellphones to illuminate the page and look at our sunflowers. which another friend had cut down and brought from her yard. Several of us found bees nestled into the flowers.

This is what I wrote.

“… the long work / of turning their lives / into a celebration / is not easy. / Come //”

Some solutions seem so simple

I will paint my office door the bright yellow

of this sunflower’s petals

I will spend the whole day reading a book

I will stretch and breathe

But when restlessness turns inside me

what should I do then, Sunflower, tell me?

When I am afraid

that my service is too meagre

and I can’t think what to do to be a

better person — what should I do, Sunflower?

The restlessness, the sense of longing

of energy unused or squandered

The list of all the harms I’ve caused

shuffling round and round inside me —

Tell me, what should I do

to fix these feelings, Sunflower?

It is true I hear you humming

Too tall, cut down, a living

bee nested in your blossom that has not

bloomed, tucked beneath the brighter face of you

You are humming not an answer

but a blessing with a sting:

Get on with living

You are not between two points

like a traveller on a train stalled between

destinations, you are in the only place

in which you are as you are — alive

and very you

Do you remember when you saw a whole

field of us, sunflowers, calling you

and you drove on, you said, It’s not

my field, I would be a trespasser?

You were right enough

But we’ve found you anyway, again

as you are. Come

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Tomorrow, I would like to write a post about the new colour of my office door, and the books I’ve been reading, and the ways I’m seeking to connect, and to learn and listen, and find antidotes to fear and despair, but for today, I invite you to find your own sunflower and ask it some questions. Whimsical, fanciful? Yup. Uncomfortable, weird? Maybe. Silly, frivolous? Try it and see for yourself.

xo, Carrie

What I learned on holiday
Welcome to my studio

4 Comments

  1. This is one of my favourites of any of your writing. And I love the exercise too. And the colour of your sunny door.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much, Susan.
      I know it’s rather rough and could be edited in places, but sometimes the raw version speaks the most clearly, despite its flaws (or maybe because of them?).

      Reply
    • Wonderful, Leslie. Thank you so much.

      Reply

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