We leisurely walked hand in hand through the golden light, enjoying the spectacular yellows and coppers and crimsons.

“It’s just like Mary Oliver said!”

“Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment”

I loved quoting my favorite autumn poem.

You stopped and pulled me into your arms. “She wasn’t just talking about autumn,” you said gently. “Remember the fires and the black river of loss.

“Whose other side is salvation,” I continued.

“Whose meaning none of us will ever know,” you concluded.

“She’s talking about autumn,” I insisted.

“My dearest love, she’s talking about death.” I could see you wanted to elaborate, but I put my finger on your lips to silence you.

We made our way home to a light supper and a warm embrace. You were tired and went on up to bed; I researched the poem on the Internet. Most of the readers agreed with me – the first lines were about the glories of autumn. Not only trees as pillars of light, but cattails bursting over the “blue shoulders of the ponds”. Such colors, such energy, such a celebration of life! I finally shut off the computer, resolving to share all this joyfulness with you the next morning.

But there was no next morning for us. You died peacefully in your sleep that night.

Now, on another autumn afternoon I walk alone, pondering golden trees and bursting cattails and the black river of loss. I stop at the very place where you took me in your arms as if to say goodbye. I fling your ashes over the leaf-strewn pathway, and the last lines of the poem pour over me in all their sorrowful wisdom:

“To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”

I listen to the silence, then take the long way home.

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Linda Rock
Linda Rock(@linda-rock)
10 months ago

This is so beautiful Julie. It touched my heart. Thank you for introducing me to ‘In Blackwater Woods’. This is a poem and a story I will read over and over again.

Linda Rock
Linda Rock(@linda-rock)
Reply to  Julie Harris
10 months ago

I love the last part, those words are certainly those to live by. I now look forward to reading ‘Wild Geese’. Autumn is my favourite season.

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Lotchie Carmelo
Lotchie Carmelo(@lotchie-carmelo)
10 months ago

Your combined poem and story are very moving. Thanks for introducing “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver. It is my first time to read this poem, and it is really very beautiful. Well-written, Julie. Good job.

Carrie OLeary
Carrie OLeary(@carrie-oleary)
10 months ago

This story is heartbreakingly beautiful Julie, and as it’s the last thing I’m reading before tootling off to bed, I’m likely to lie awake thinking about it for some time! Very nicely done. I haven’t read that poem, or anything by that poet, but will endeavour to do so once my NaNoWriMo commitment is complete!

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Christer Norrlof
Christer Norrlof(@christer-norrlof)
9 months ago

Thank you, Julie, for this wonderful introduction to Mary Oliver and her poetry. I love your story about the couple, gently quarreling about the deepest meaning of the poem, only for her soon to experience that part of the interpretation turns into harsh reality. The last part brings it all together in a brilliant way. Great writing!

Marianna Pieterse
Marianna Pieterse(@marianna-pieterse)
9 months ago

Julie, I agree with Carrie, this is so beautiful and the kind of story that will stay with you and will make you lie awake at night wondering about it. I haven’t read any of Mary Oliver’s poems yet, but from your story it sounds like they are meaningful poems with valuable lessons. I like the last paragraph of the poem you have used in your story. I can see why she is your favourite poet! Great story.

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