flares up, out of a vanished wilderness

Nearly a decade ago when I was newly single, without a reliable income, and very sick but not yet diagnosed, I could hardly bear the heartbreak of the changing seasons. When the first leaves started to fall that autumn, I wept in my therapist’s office. I had been spending my mornings by the Eno River and the canopy of leaves had become a shield against my fear and grief. 

What would I do when the trees were bare and I didn’t have the dense green beauty of North Carolina summer to buoy me?

I stumbled my way through that winter and when I saw the first daffodil the next February, I cried again. I had acclimated to the season I was in. Lying by the river that spring, staring up into the budding leaves blowing and rippling above me, I thought maybe the lushness would smother me. 

And then I flipped to a Mary Oliver poem that seemed to have been written for that exact moment. 

Two Kinds of Deliverance

Last night the geese came back,
slanting fast
from the blossom of the rising moon down
to the black pond. A muskrat
swimming in the twilight saw them and hurried
to the secret lodges to tell everyone
spring had come.

And so it had.
By morning when I went out
the last of the ice had disappeared, blackbirds
sang on the shores. Every year
the geese, returning,
do this, I don’t
know how.


The curtains opened and there was
an old man in a headdress of feathers,
leather leggings and a vest made
from the skin of some animal. He danced
in a kind of surly rapture, and the trees
in the fields far away
began to mutter and suck up their long roots.
Slowly they advanced until they stood
pressed to the schoolhouse windows.


I don’t know
lots of things but I know this: next year
when spring
flows over the starting point I’ll think I’m going to
drown in the shimmering miles of it and then
one or two birds will fly me over
the threshold.
As for the pain
of others, of course it tries to be
abstract, but then

there flares up out of a vanished wilderness, like fire,
still blistering: the wrinkled face
of an old Chippewa
smiling, hating us,
dancing for his life.

Yesterday, sitting in our backyard and looking out over our neighborhood treetops, one line repeated in my head. “I’ll think I’m going to drown in the shimmering miles of it and then one or two birds will fly me over the threshold.”

In the water right outside our house, Khalil spotted dozens of carp, two feet long at least. Seagulls dove down, beaks open, and then changed their mind when they saw the size of the fish.  

We called David over and he noticed, tucked under our rock walk, nine baby ducks swimming with their mom. We fed them dried corn and they scooped it up eagerly with their tiny beaks. 

Our gardens have shimmering miles of flowers that are new every week. Bleeding hearts, lilacs, tulips, hydrangeas, apple blossoms. Near some old ash stumps, I noticed some morels. Only recognizable from the countless times Khalil and I have read his Smithsonian animal book from cover to cover. The fifth page has illustrated mushrooms. 

I’m not brave enough to eat backyard mushrooms, but a local forager came and picked them. She also took some extra rhubarb off our hands. 

On the patio, Khalil asked David to dance. They held hands — swaying and twirling and bowing elegantly when they were done. “Now say bravo!”

Just like eight years ago, this spring feels like a tsunami. We are still in a pandemic here, but the end is in sight. June 3rd will mark 15 months isolated. What will the summer and fall be like for us? For everyone?

Summer, autumn, winter will bring change, and hope, and hard decisions. Khalil climbed into bed with me this morning and daydreamed about “when the covid germies are gone.” He said he’ll bring some dinosaurs in a backpack to school and share them with his friends and they will all play together. He said that maybe he can go inside our neighbor’s house and if they have a baby, he will be very careful. 

Just like years ago, I got used to the season we’ve been in. To the lonely monotony of it. And like that first spring, I will look for some birds to fly me over the threshold.