By Adrie Kusserow
In her much-beloved poem, Wild Geese, Mary Oliver has something to say about our endless attempts to prove ourselves. You do not have to be good, she advises, or walk on your knees through the desert. You only have to “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
When you feel lost or discouraged, she adds, just remember that life “calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting,” reminding you of your home in the family of things.
Adrie Kussarow reworked Wild Geese to help us sort through our knee-jerk responses to the coronavirus. This is not the moment to double down and be even more productive. It’s time to find out what it means to be at home within ourselves.
You do not have to become totally zen,
You do not have to use this isolation to make your marriage better,
your body slimmer, your children more creative.
You do not have to “maximize its benefits”
By using this time to work even more,
write the bestselling Corona Diaries,
Or preach the gospel of ZOOM.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body unlearn
everything capitalism has taught you,
(That you are nothing if not productive,
That consumption equals happiness,
That the most important unit is the single self.
That you are at your best when you resemble an efficient machine).
Tell me about your fictions, the ones you’ve been sold,
the ones you sheepishly sell others,
and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world as we know it is crumbling.
Meanwhile the virus is moving over the hills,
suburbs, cities, farms and trailer parks.
Meanwhile The News barks at you, harsh and addicting,
Until the push of the remote leaves a dead quiet behind,
a loneliness that hums as the heart anchors.
Meanwhile a new paradigm is composing itself in our minds,
Could birth at any moment if we clear some space
From the same tired hegemonies.
Remember, you are allowed to be still as the white birch,
Stunned by what you see,
Uselessly shedding your coils of paper skins
Because it gives you something to do.
Meanwhile, on top of everything else you are facing,
Do not let capitalism co-opt this moment,
laying its whistles and train tracks across your weary heart.
Even if your life looks nothing like the Sabbath,
Your stress boa-constricting your chest.
Know that your antsy kids, your terror, your shifting moods,
Your need for a drink have every right to be here,
And are no less sacred than a yoga class.
Whoever you are, no matter how broken,
the world still has a place for you, calls to you over and over
announcing your place as legit, as forgiven,
even if you fail and fail and fail again.
remind yourself over and over,
all the swells and storms that run through your long tired body
all have their place here, now in this world.
It is your birthright to be held
deeply, warmly in the family of things,
not one cell left in the cold.
Adrie Kussarow is a poet and cultural anthropologist with special interests in refugees, social inequalities, poverty, anthropology of religion, culture, illness and healing, social class and ethnographic poetry. A strong proponent of study abroad she had taken students to Sudan, Uganda and Bhutan. A graduate of Harvard Divinity School and a PhD in anthropology from Harvard, Adrie teaches at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont.
Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
Hunting Down the Monk (New American Poets Series) by Adrie Kussarow