Tag Archives: Class Number 176

Mary Oliver said she was not good with titles, and neither am I

Housekeeping items first: “Wheat-Not-Oats-Dear-Posting-Times”. There shall always be blogging anew on Tuesdays, so check back then for certain; anything else is an extra, like unexpected cupcakes. “Who put these cupcakes here?” you might say, and try one, and–with luck–find it delicious. With luck you will not say: “This cupcake tastes like tree bark.”


Last week, I attended two wildly different events:

  1. Tuesday Night: My Friend’s Graduation Ceremony From Massage Therapy School
  2. Wednesday Night: A Reading By The Poet Mary Oliver At The Art Institute

“My!” you’re thinking. “Those sure are wildly different events.”

Event the First: A Massage Therapy School Graduation Ceremony

The massage therapy school graduation ceremony was one of the strangest things I’ve ever been privileged to witness, and I’ve witnessed some Things in my day, gentle reader! Typically, situations like a massage therapy school graduation ceremony are a source of real delight in my life, but this transcended “delight” and passed immediately on to “uncomfortably bewildered” and “Did that guy just quote the U.S Department of Labor in his commencement speech?” [The answer: “Yes, he did.”] The eyeball-splittingly grim programs we were given on our entrance featured each “massage class number” in a chilling font best described as “Soviet Spies Who Have Been Buried Beneath Lubyanka Square, If You Know What I Mean, Comrades”. I also learned that I have 206 bones in my body, and so do you! The ceremony chiefly consisted of people getting up, speaking to their experiences, and generally exhibiting a total meltdown in their verbal filtering system, if they housed such a system to begin with. My favorite moment occurred during a speech towards the end of the evening, delivered by a woman whose grip on the podium could charitably be called “white-knuckled” . After uttering sentences like “Massage class number 176 taught me that desire can burn fiercely but have no heat” [what?] the speaker shared the Carl Sandburg poem “Stars, Songs, Faces” with the assembly, because—and I quote—“It always makes me think of massage therapy school graduation ceremonies.” If I may be frank with you–and I think that I may–this was such a jaw-droppingly concrete reaction that I practically had to eat my chair to keep from laughing, peal after peal of the hysterical, unhinged laughter that can only come at the end of a very long massage therapy school graduation ceremony, and when you are hungry, because you forgot to eat dinner and the last thing you ate was string cheese, and that’s not going to stick to your ribs.

Event the Second: It Was Not A Massage Therapy School Graduation

And then…there was Mary Oliver. O Mary Oliver! April is National Poetry Month [la la la!] and the Poetry Center and the Poetry Foundation partnered together to bring Mary to read her poetry to a big auditorium of poetry-lovers, all of us hanging on her slightest utterance, and all of us in full-on Appreciative Murmuring Mode for the shank of the evening. [Mary Oliver: “I wrote a poem about my dog.” Audience: “Mmmmmmm.”] As my friends and I snaked our way down the aisle, going begging for a seat, I listened to the conversation two people were having in front of me. “There’s nowhere to sit!” said the man. “Yes,” said the woman, and then, brightening: “But that’s GOOD!” And it WAS. It was lovely to see so many many people there, so many many fans; both the writing and reading of poetry can feel very solitary, and this drove us all out of our caves and banded us together. In addition, Ms. Oliver’s reading voice was all I ever wanted. She read new work from “Red Bird”, which just came out last week. I was initially antsy when she prefaced anything with “This is from “Red Bird””—because you want to hear your favorites, yes? “Hey, how’s about “The Chance to Love Everything”, M.O?” I wanted to shriek from our seats in the balcony. But then she read a poem from “Red Bird” called “There you were, and it was like spring”—

“There you were, and it was like spring—

like the first fair water with the light on it,

hitting the eyes.

Why are we made the way we are made, that to love

is to want?”

And so on from there. [That’s all you get; go buy the book and read some more. If you want. Which you should.] And I cried a little [fulfilling the mathematical certainty that I would do so at some point in the evening, because I’m a crier, no two ways about it, no siree] and I thought, too: “This is the first time I have ever encountered this poem, and it is because the woman who wrote it is reading it aloud aaaiiiiiieee! Aaaaaaaaa! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” Then my friends had to carry me out like a sack of potatoes. I’m kidding. I was reminded, though, as ever, of the unique blessings of experiencing a work of art [whatever it is] for the very first time. Because Mary also read “Mindful”, which I know and like, and I enjoyed it; but it did not make my chest hurt, or make me think new thoughts.

And anyway, who’s to say that the woman from the massage school was not similarly moved, in her fashion, when she first read “Stars, Songs, Faces”? Who am I to say that she was not? Who am I to say that the audience of the massage therapy school graduation was not similarly enraptured with their own special evening?

They were pretty different nights, is all.


Filed under Mary Oliver, Poetry