I used Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day,” as inspiration today. The last lines alone would make a good starting point:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
But, my mind caught on some of her other words, and I wrote this:
Do I know how to pay attention any more? Yesterday, I stopped, hands poised over keyboard, falling into relax, when a whirring caught my eye. A humming bird hovered and darted among my neighbors red bee balm. I could have glanced up, kept writing, kept filling the page, checking things off my list. But I sat. I watched. It’s good to look up sometimes, or down at the ants trundling through the grass, carrying crumb nearly bigger than they are. One of the activities K added to our list of things to do when bored was watch birds up in the sky. I should sit and do this with her sometimes. I should slow down on our walks, really notice, but so often I am trying to get somewhere or get some exercise or I need to be back by a certain time. What I wanted most from this summer was the laziness, the time to fall down in the grass, to pay attention.
“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?” We are in a season of life and growth. I went out this morning, barefoot, to check on the garden. My feet swept through the dewy grass, so wet I could have had a long drink. I need to pull the peas. For even in this time of growing, they are done. The cosmos are almost taller than me and starting to flower. The sunflowers tower over me. The zinnias are just starting to reveal their brilliant pinks and oranges. Ah, the chard I thought wasn’t going to grow is taking off. I need to pick turnips again. I flick a few tiny seedlike eggs off the bottom of a squash leaf (squash bugs, something that doesn’t die too soon). Zucchini to pick later perhaps. Is the lettuce bin full in the fridge or should I pick some more? It too will soon be done. I should plant more.
We plant seeds knowing plants will eventually die, some after just one season. Even things we expect to live long don’t always. A neighbor gave us a peach tree for a wedding gift. Three years later as we were floundering together through grief, struggling each day to communicate with each other, tongues and brains numbed with sadness, both lost in our own dark worlds, the tree began to fail. The leaves yellowed and began to fall in the summer. I was too tired for a while to figure out what was wrong with it. Every day, I looked at our wedding tree and told myself it was not symbolic. I finally found the hole by the base of the tree where something had burrowed in, turning the trunk to mush. We scraped it out and hoped. The tree died. Six years later, we are still here. It was not symbolic. It was a just tree, dying too soon. That little boy of mine did that too.
His death, so many people would tell you, was supposed to help get my priorities straight, help me figure out just what to do with my wild, precious life, but I’m stuck like most of us in the mundane most days—folding laundry, making lunch, paying bills, getting to swimming lessons on time. I try to stop and notice, to really pay attention to the vivid faces of the zinnias in my garden and the fresh green smell of the cilantro I accidentally pull with the weeds. I try to really focus on K’s earnest face as she tells me about the fairies who came to her fairy house. I brush a wisp of blond hair away from her eyes, feel the excitement trembling through her. The moss is soft and damp underneath me as we sit in the green shade. K squats low, showing me how to make the house more inviting, more private so fairies will like them. Part of me zooms in on her small fingers poking, pointing, but part of me is poised to do, not the important things of this life, but the weeding and the work that keeps telling me it needs to get done, calling louder than the fairies or the birds or the rest of this summer day.
Write with Me:
Read Oliver’s poem or choose another poem to inspire you. Then start writing. Maybe you’ll mirror the subject or the theme of the poem, or maybe a particular word or phrase will evoke a memor or spark an idea. Take 15 minutes or so and just keep writing see where the poem takes you.
Share your writing in the comments or email me at email@example.com. I’d love to hear what you came up with.
Want another quick writing activity? Download Summer Stories in Five Minutes.