How to Read Poetry

for Connie Eggers

On the college library shelves I see
all of Mary Oliver’s collections
have been taken outside.

Blue Pastures was taken in the rain
and read under a pine, safe
until the wind shook down a shower.

American Primitive is so worn
its spine is like a peeled birch
whose skin was used for the canoe

where Swan was forgotten and sloshed
in the bottom, dug out of a pack
and dried in the sun near the chapel.

Twelve Moons was taken cross country
on skis to a monk’s fish house for tea.
You can breathe in the stove smoke still.

Red Bird was hiked in a backpack
where the water bottle leaked,
puckering the margins, shrinking the jacket.

Blue Iris took a plane to lie on the beach,
where salt penetrated the pages
and sand grinds in the spine.

A House of Light kept company
while someone crouched in weeds
awaiting the sand hill cranes.

One page is streaked with mud, another
shows a fingerprint where she considered
her one wild and precious life.

Only Dream Work is intact. It slept and slept
beneath pillows on the single beds
in the Women Only dorms.

Oh yes, it’s true, the spine falls easily
open to the place where it’s written:
You do not have to be good.

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