Poetry · Pulitzer Prize Winners · Reviews

“American Primitive” by Mary Oliver

I don’t know if you have ever seen it, or at least heard of it, but there’s a rather famous sculpture of a naked woman bleeding light through the cracks on her body. The piece is called Expansion and is from the talented Paige Bradley. As I read American Primitive by Mary Oliver, my brain apparently couldn’t help but connect the two.

“and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain – not a single
answer has been found –
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.”

Mary Oliver acknowledges the cracks. Instead of seeing them as something that makes us flawed though, she seems to celebrate them for allowing the light to shine through. For her, every moment is a matter of perspective. It all comes down to us, to the way we choose to interpret what our eyes fall upon. She seems to find splendor at every corner.

“But we were fourteen

and no way dust could hide
the expected glamour from us,

or teach us anything.”

We might all be walking around with our eyes open, but Mary Oliver sees. I couldn’t be more grateful for her poetry. It feels as if she is lending us her senses, as if she is tempting us with her senses – go out and see for yourself, it’s beautiful, even when it hurts.

“there is no end,
believe me! to the inventions of summer,
to the happiness your body
is willing to bear.”

One detail that appears to be more evident in American Primitive is Mary Oliver’s gift for creating certain textures with her words that are beyond palpable. It’s quite an experience.

If I were to describe American Primitive in one word, I believe I would go with feathers. They are soft to the touch and yet together they cover wings that lift bodies into the sky.


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