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The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac

Mary Oliver


1.


Why should I have been surprised?

Hunters walk the forest

without a sound.

The hunter, strapped to his rifle,

the fox on his feet of silk,

the serpent on his empire of muscles—

all move in a stillness,

hungry, careful, intent.

Just as the cancer

entered the forest of my body,

without a sound.


2.


The question is,

what will it be like

after the last day?

Will I float

into the sky

or will I fray

within the earth or a river—

remembering nothing?

How desperate would I be

if I couldn’t remember

the sun rising, if I couldn’t

remember trees, rivers; if I couldn’t

even remember, beloved,

your beloved name.


3.


I know, you never intended to be in this world.

But you’re in it all the same.


So why not get started immediately.


I mean, belonging to it.

There is so much to admire, to weep over.


And to write music or poems about.


Bless the feet that take you to and fro.

Bless the eyes and the listening ears.

Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.

Bless touching.


You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.

Or not.

I am speaking from the fortunate platform

of many years,

none of which, I think, I ever wasted.

Do you need a prod?

Do you need a little darkness to get you going?

Let me be as urgent as a knife, then,

and remind of you Keats,

So single of purpose and thinking, for a while,

he had a lifetime.


4.


Late yesterday afternoon, in the heat,

all the fragile blue flowers in bloom

in the shrubs in the yard next door had

tumbled from the shrubs and lay

wrinkled and fading in the grass. But

this morning the shrubs were full of

the blue flowers again. There wasn’t

a singled one on the grass. How, I

wondered, did they roll or crawl back

to the shrubs and then back up to

the branches, that fiercely wanting,

as we all do, just a little more of

life?


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