Devotions with Mary Oliver: “At Blackwater Pond”

Photo by Uriel Mont on

“Well, I built me a raft
and she’s ready for floatin’
Ol’ Mississippi, she’s callin’ my name
Catfish are jumpin’,
that paddle wheel thumpin’
Black water keep rollin’ on past just the same”

“Blackwater” by The Doobie Brothers, from What Were Once Vices are Now Habits (1974)

I know, I know! The Doobie Brothers and Mary Oliver aren’t talking about the same body of water, but I can’t help but hear that opening guitar lick fading into this post…

Today’s meditation actually graces the back of the book but also appears on page 393 as the first selection from Three Rivers Poetry Journal (1980) and “Three Poems for James Wright” (1982) collection. Even before I dove into the depths of Oliver’s works, this tantalizing teaser brought me great joy. It’s an invitation to drink from Blackwater Pond after a night of rain, wherein “lives the dearest freshness deep down things,” as George Herbert so aptly put it.

I’m sure some of you will want to break out your water filter straws before kneeling to sip from the pond, but don’t miss what’s happening in the poem. Oliver would not expect your body to respond so profoundly (notice all the casesuras!) to the tap water from the currently taped off water fountain, nor the 100% Natural Spring Water conveniently bottled in plastic that you grab in a twenty-four pack at Sam’s Club.

No, no. This… THIS must be what Adam and Eve said when they took their first drink in Eden.

At Blackwater Pond – Mary Oliver

At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?

Oliver, Mary. Devotions. Penguin Press, NY: 2017. (pg. 393)

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