Book Club

Wild Geese.

By: Jen Shoop

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

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.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

-Mary Oliver

I discovered this poem on a chance encounter this past weekend and must have read it four or five times, moved by its sentiment.  I then discovered a recording of Mary Oliver herself reading it aloud and — oh.  How achingly perfect.  While I spent some time pondering the ethics of the poem, sorting through my perspective on them (“you do not have to be good” gives the rule-abiding “good girl” in me deep pause; “you do not have to repent” flies in the face of my Catholicism), in the end I can’t imagine a didacticism that better aligns with my outlook on, well, the heft and balance of life right now.  I am drawn to the naturalism of making space for myself, feeling what I feel without the censor of comparison, shame, jealousy, or the brassy though often phantom centurions of what is socially politic.  I love, too, the poem’s weaving of the self into the natural world: the tethering of the rhythms of the heart to the migration of the geese, to the passing of a rainstorm.  Your uncanned emotions are as welcome a part of this world as are you — all of you. 


Worthy thoughts for a quiet Tuesday, which I will sully with two apposite addenda I can’t prevent myself from sharing:

  1. I went with a few members of my book club to hear Lauren Groff read a selection from her excellent book of short stories, Florida (full review here; strongly recommend this book), last week.  At the risk of sounding…petty? unkind?, I found her reading a distraction from the quality of the book.  I had understood her tone so differently!  Her affect in person was more sarcastic and light-hearted, less elegiac and poetic.  I interpret the stories differently now.  A funny thing, as in a Q+A afterward, she commented that “books don’t really belong to authors after they’re published; they belong to the readers.”  And yet hearing her read her own work was a revision, a reclamation of sorts, of my previous readings.  (Also, can you imagine my shock when — out of all the short stories in the collection — she chose to read “Midnight Zone”?  A tale of a mother who suffers a head injury?  Several of you had written to remind me of the story after my own fall!  What are the odds?!)  Not so with Mary Oliver’s reading (linked above), which sounded to me exactly as it should: sage, measured, reassuring without being saccharine.
  2. As I was copying and pasting the lines above, my computer reformatted the poem so that all of the lines ran together in one block paragraph.  I went back through to add the appropriate line breaks, at first trying my own hand at arranging the lines from memory.  It was a humbling reminder of the craft of the poet and the fact that form matters.  Or, rather, form shapes matter.  The poem transformed in inflection as I spliced and trimmed the block into its intended breaks, its pauses and run-ons drawing new and different moods and observations to the foreground, letting others recede.  A rearrangement of poetic furniture.  The isolation of “love what it loves” on its own line in particular stuck in my throat.  The line’s insistence, its persistence, moved me.  If you are ever in the mood for a provoking intellectual exercise, try the same yourself.  You’ll read ten poems in one and then appreciate the original all the more.

If you’re not familiar with Mary Oliver, please start with this slim book of essays, which is smart and observant and poignantly respectful of the natural world in a way that makes you think twice, or three times, or even four, about the spider building its web in the corner of your attic.  


+I had a reader write in asking for low heels or flats to wear to a wedding that will take place on cobblestones.  My response: I immediately thought of Loeffler Randall’s Coco heels (on sale). They’re velvet and have a block heel and come in great colors that would contrast well with your dress. If the heel is too high, their Celeste model is similar and even lower in heel height. My other thought was to do a flat velvet or satin mule. These are so trendy right now — you can find them everywhere! — and I like the idea of having them look like a tuxedo slipper with your dress. It’s a bold look but you can absolutely pull it off! Think of something like Aquazzura’s Powder Puff.  You can get the look for less with these. Or go embellished with these — which really remind me of tuxedo slippers!  Finally — how funky/cool are these?! Love the embellished toe and brocade print. They are LOUD. Would look amazing with big sparkly earrings!

+I should read more poetry.

+NYE will involve Mr. Magpie and I on a couch at home this year, probably in bed just after the ball drops.  Thinking that in lieu of a new dress I’ll order these and call it a night.  Oh but they make me happy.

+Why do you read?  How do you read?  

+I have been getting a lot of mileage out of my fur vests this season — a black and a beige-white.  This is a great option at an even greater pricepoint, and it comes in such great colors.  The pastel pink is chic, especially in light of my feminine aesthetic at the moment.

+In love with this chunky knit sweater.

+This coat is so fun — Gucci vibes!

+Speaking of Gucci vibes: this coat for mini!  I am so torn between that style and this one.  Have never ordered from this site before but willing to test the waters for one of these precious jackets.

+If you liked the velvet hairbows I featured in these posts but not the price — just found a great Etsy source that might be up your alley: try this!

+I remember how this felt like it was yesterday.

+Well, hello, Grace Kelly.  Talk about making an entrance.

+A dress for a hot young thing.  Mackenzie Horan, you are welcome.  (This has your name all over it and inside out.)

+This is one of my favorite hacks for an organized under-sink area (we’ve ceded all precious drawer space to utensils and implements and no longer have a “baggie drawer” as we used to call it in Chicago): I keep all of our saran wrap, wax paper, foil, and baggies lined upright in these.  Keeps everything tidy and easy to grab.  I’ve had at least three New Yorkers marvel over them — “oh, what a good way to keep that organized!”

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10 thoughts on “Wild Geese.

  1. I adore this poem — it’s long been one of my favorites and I always like having the chance to revisit it, so thank you for that! Your reflection is enlightening.

    That baggie organizer — genius! Added to my next AmazonSmile order. 🙂

    1. YES! Such a random life-enhancer. You won’t regret it. So interesting that so many of you knew this poem!! I am late to the game there. xoxo

  2. I had to share my favorite poem:

    By Robert Bly

    Things to Think

    Think in ways you’ve never thought before.
    If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
    Larger than anything you’ve ever heard,
    Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

    Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
    Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose
    Has risen out of the lake, and he’s carrying on his antlers
    A child of your own whom you’ve never seen.

    When someone knocks on the door, think that he’s about
    To give you something large: tell you you’re forgiven,
    Or that it’s not necessary to work all the time, or that it’s
    Been decided that if you lie down no one will die.

    1. WOW. That last line brings the hammer down, doesn’t it? It took my breath away. Thank you so much for sharing this. I read it last night in bed and have been thinking of it all day. xoxo

  3. Thank you so much for not only sharing this beautiful poem but for sharing your interpretation – very meaningful.

    So glad I’m not the only newish parent whose NYE involves staying in!

    1. So glad you appreciated this! I always wonder whether poetry will be alienating — it’s so out of vogue, so difficult to read, so dense. But a little bit here and there…xoxo

    1. THANK YOU KATE! Because of your note, I took the plunge and ordered one of the Monsoon coats for mini. Thanks for writing in on this. And I am now going to spend the next hour scouring River Island, too — thank you for the intro! xo

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