The Last Poem I Loved: “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver


After I finished reading “Wild Geese,” all I could think of was: So what! So what that I am an undocumented person living in hiding, so what that I was turned into a “criminal” when I was a child, so what that this is yet another country creating laws to “guard” Themselves against US, so what that we are a productive problem–productive for many, a problem for some–so what that I hurt some times, I am not the only one. You do not have to be good.

I was raised in a devout catholic family, where guilt and repentance were the constant denominators of life. You do not have to walk on your knees / for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. More often than not while growing up, I felt guilt; of my own sins: stealing candy from my parents’ store, lying about having prayed, hating the way my grandmother’s aging odor swelled in my nose whenever she pulled me to her breasts hugging me with so much passion, not going to confession believing I had nothing worth confessing. I also felt guilt for the sins of others of which I was made part of: not confessing ever how a boy touched me inappropriately and later on, touched in such way, by a man too and how they left a dirty feeling that survived in me like a shadow, only sometimes gone. I felt guilty, too, when inheriting an “illegal” status, when accused of stealing the job no one else applied for, when not having a dollar or coins to give to the homeless asking for anything I could spare, standing outside of the 99¢ Only store…I knew I was crying only after I felt the tears seeping through the thin fabric of my summer dress. I had only finished reading the third line of Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese,” and I was already a broken vessel spilling all of its content. It was the absolution administered by the Poet through the poem, the descending Trinity of Incantation, Bravery, and the Chosen Words.

Seated at my red table, I see myself, in front of the bare window, in a rented house from where a playground can be seen through the white birch trees. It was close to 7p.m. and the sun still had thirty minutes before darkness took over completely. The children laughed and yelled, ran, passed the ball, and with ice cream fingers held hands freely licking each other’s melting flavors. I spoke to myself aloud for the first time: You only have to let the soft animal of your body / love what it loves. I am not the only one here. We are animals, first and foremost. Our primal instinct is survival and allowing the body to be what it is–strong, weak, resilient, and vulnerable–is needed to survive. It was as if Mary Oliver herself had introduced me to the Community of Hurting Anonymous and it was comforting.

Tell me about despair, yours, I came to accept my life as it was. Not in one single moment. Not after one single reading of this poem. After many, many, many days I confessed trying to comfort the crying child through the eyes and mind of a woman: I am exhausted. I don’t want to fight life, I don’t want to settle, and I don’t want it to stop me from moving forward. I will not be a victim. I would like, if I ever have the opportunity, to resolve my status and be living without that concern. But if I can’t, I will still live as fully as I possible. I know I will smile and laugh when something is funny. I will hurt. I will struggle. I will get angry. I will feel confidence, satisfied, and I will rejoice too. I will love, because life gives us reasons for it all. I don’t want to wait for the day when I am “ready,” and everything is “good.” I want to embrace Life. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain, / are moving across the landscapes, /over the prairies and the deep trees, / the mountains and the rivers. And so, let your eyes see the good and the bad and draw strength from it. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely.

Meanwhile the world goes on. I’ve become the one who can be strong enough to fight and who is not afraid of skin breaking or scarring and yet at times, in the dark, is afraid of spiders. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clear blue air, / are heading home again. No one can ever take away everything I’ve learned nor all the love I’ve felt, no matter where I stand or where I must go. There are fears that lurk around the routine daily life. But there is more joy and hope found when I stop and think of everything I do have: health, food, shelter, family, a lover, friends, poetry, and a dog I get to walk side by side early in the mornings when mostly all else sleeps. And uncertainty, too, is good to have from time to time because it is a good motivation to try things I wouldn’t otherwise try.

My life is good. The world offers itself to your imagination. The life before and the life after reading “Wild Geese” for the first time are as different as the wine consecrated and shared during mass and the wine libations my lover and I savor while in bed watching the curtains in the master bedroom dance with the summer winds. I no longer have to live in hiding. I no longer feel lonely, although I love and appreciate my solitude. All material possessions can be snatched away from me but no one, yet, has the legal authority to stop me from dreaming and from learning. I want knowledge to be the biggest gain in my life, my words to be of comfort and the only inheritance I leave behind, and fear to be no longer a choice. Over and over announcing your place.

I’ve read poems that brought laughter, a tear, and even some that have gotten me blushing. “Wild Geese,” however, gave me something few other poems have given me since I started to wet my feet in the poetry oceans; it gave me freedom to occupy the space in the family of things.

Cristian Flores Garcia holds an M.F.A from U.C. Riverside. She has received fellowships to Canto Mundo, The MacDowell Colony, and The Millay Colony. Her poetry has been featured in PALABRA Magazine, The American Poetry Review, Spillway Magazine, and Connotation Press, among others and was selected for Pushcart Prize XXXVII. More from this author →