This morning
two mockingbirds
in the green field
were spinning and tossing

the white ribbons 
of their songs
into the air.
I had nothing

better to do
than listen.
I mean this

In Greece,
a long time ago,
an old couple
opened their door

to two strangers
who were,
it soon appeared,
not men at all,

but gods.

It is my favorite story--
how the old couple
had almost nothing to give
but their willingness

to be attentive--
but for this alone
the gods loved them
and blessed them--

when they rose
out of their mortal bodies,
like a million particles of water
from a fountain,

the light
swept into all the corners
of the cottage,
and the old couple,

shaken with understanding,
bowed down--
but still they asked for nothing

but the difficult life
which they had already.
And the gods smiled,
as they vanished,
clapping their great wings.

Wherever it was
I was supposed to be
this morning--

whatever it was I said
I would be doing--

I was standing
at the edge of the field--
I was hurrying
through my own soul,

opening its dark doors--
I was leaning out;

I was listening.

Mary Oliver is the writer-in-residence at Sweet Briar College, in Virginia.
She received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1984 for her book American Primitive.

Mockingbirds by Mary Oliver 

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