The Slow-Cooked Sentence


Rachael Conlin Levy

Once a connection is made, well, it’s hard to keep the mind from adding links in the chain. What began with a boozy grandma and a mossy cloak of pain became an Irish ditty, a leap to existential pain in a post-alcoholic culture, until I’m circling back to moss.

A few days ago I hiked through Golden Gardens and its three staircases that zigzag a hillside to end at the beach. Just before leaving the house, I pulled Mary Oliver from the bookshelf. If I could invite any poet to join me on a walk, it would be Oliver. That being impossible, I take her words.

I thumbed through my used copy of “New and Selected Poems: Vol. Two.” If the title grabs me, I scan a couple lines. If the lines hold my attention, I usually read to the end. This morning I took a pass on “Mindful” (too preachy), made it halfway (yawn) through “Stars,” before I read “Moss” — and discovered at its end that Oliver and I share more than just a walking habit.


By Mary Oliver, first published in “Winter Hours,” 1999.


Maybe the idea of the world as flat isn’t a tribal memory

or an archetypal memory, but something far older — a

fox memory, a worm memory, a moss memory.


Memory of leaping or crawling or shrugging rootlet by

rootlet forward, across the flatness of everything.


To perceive of the earth as round needed something else

— standing up! — that hadn’t yet happened.


What a wild family! Fox and giraffe and wart hog, of

course. But these also: bodies of tiny strings, bodies like

blades and blossoms! Cord grass, Christmas fern, soldier

moss! And here comes grasshopper, all toes and knees

and eyes, over the little mountains of dust.


When I see the black cricket in the woodpile, in autumn,

I don’t frighten her. And when I see the moss grazing

upon the rock, I touch her tenderly,


sweet cousin.

Connected, I thought. Bust as the door closed behind me, it wasn’t Oliver’s words that became my mantra for the walk but those of singer-songwriter Luke Dick. I sang along to the car stereo as I drove through the rain and into the forest. While I turn the pages of my book/ Across the world the author cooks/ She pours the wine, while I break the bread,/ Because we’re connected.

One more link in the chain.

One response to “Relatives”

  1. Denise says:

    I liked reading about your poetry reading process. My process is similar to yours. I also incorporate looking at the shape of the poem when deciding what I want to read. And then there’s my mood. And the weather.

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