We are creatures of contradiction ... (Principle/Hexagram 38)

One of Mary Oliver's lesser known poems is "The Kookaburras"; it's in her 1990 volume, House of Light.

"The Kookaburras" stopped me cold when I first read it in the summer of 1991. It still does, though my perspective on my -- and our -- common human courage and cowardice has gentled. Each of us is "a coward and ... a god of flowers" ... We are intrinsically both at odds with this and in quiet complement with that ... Our perceptions of and beliefs about contrast inform so much of our behaviour ... I like this; I don't like that ... This is good; that is bad ... This is right; that is wrong ...

One of our first lessons, one of the first things that we can perceive when we are very young, is difference. We come to see what is me and what is other. Distinction, discrimination, diversity. I am this, you are that.  I did this ... I did not do that.

~ Mary Oliver ~

In every heart there is a coward and a procrastinator.
In every heart there is a god of flowers, just waiting
to come out of its cloud and lift its wings.
The kookaburras, kingfishers, pressed against the edge of
their cage, they asked me to open the door.
Years later I wake in the night and remember how I said to them,
no, and walked away.
They had the brown eyes of soft-hearted dogs.
They didn't want to do anything so extraordinary, only to fly
home to their river.
By now I suppose the great darkness has covered them.
As for myself, I am not yet a god of even the palest flowers.
Nothing else has changed either.
Someone tosses their white bones to the dung-heap.
The sun shines on the latch of their cage.
I lie in the dark, my heart pounding.

In each of us is the meeting place of courage, cowardice, 
chance, choice, 
chaos, calm, 
and consequence ...

Lift the latch. 

* Photo of kookaburra by Stefan Koeder

* The image of insomnia can be found here. Thank you, unnamed artist.


Karin Bartimole said…
That is a thought provoking poem Jaliya.
I believe that meeting place of cowardice and courage is at the moment of choice, once it has been made. It can be instantaneous, or it can be a wrestling match. My coward lives in a protective cloud of confusion - if I can't make a decision, it's usually because of some kind of fear, which becomes masked by "I don't know"!! What should I doooo?! But my courage is decisive, clear, present thinking and able to see who I am at my best. Does that make sense? My coward generally cowers in 'past' thinking.
Good question - I'll probably think of other elements involved as the day progresses :)
love, love! K
Jaliya said…
Yes, Karin, what you write makes perfect sense.

My coward sits deeply in her habitual spot on the couch ... My lion-heart gets *up* and moves into the moment ...
Jan said…
I love to find the treasures you post here.
deb said…
poor birds in their cages, poor us in our own. I am too sad to think about it today, I will come again
Steven Brown said…
Oliver is such a tremendous poet. I love her work. Thanks for posting this. I'm an excited, new visitor to your blog. Looking forward to reading more!--S
Jaliya said…
Dear fellow creatures of contradiction ... I am so glad that you find heart, wisdom and beauty in poetry ... It is a perfect summer gift ... Lately I am pondering poems like this one ...

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