Reading Mary Oliver in a Coffee Shop in the Desert
written by: David Molnar
Let’s get one thing straight right off:
We are not in Palm Springs
Nor are we in Palm Desert
We are in Borrego Springs
And it suits me perfectly
When I with my copy of SWAN
Walk by the four men sitting outside
I get the ‘who is this outlander’ look.
But I smile a “Hello, gentlemen”
And get neutral nods in return.
Had Mary Oliver walked by
In all probability they would
Not have recognized her
But I know they would have
Recognized the Mary Oliver
That is the essence of her being.
Inside, after paying for my coffee
I am handed an empty paper cup
Meaning I have to find and pump
My own coffee from a dispenser
But that’s great: it suits the place
Dipping a scone in the Seattle’s Best
I read from SWAN and remember poems
From other collections I own.
I’m thinking there’s not a swan
Within 100 miles. No alligator
Closer than the San Diego Zoo
(so we don’t have to worry about that)
Foxes? Maybe in hills I drove through
To get to this desert village.
Ponds? No. Lakes? No. Rivers? No.
Herons, cranes? Don’t think so.
But I think she would have found
Something to treasure here
Maybe with the young woman in riding gear.
She could have talked about horses.
I left home four hours ago, 4 AM,
Unable to sleep, I drove up the
Curvy, steep Sunrise Highway.
Only much later, after leaving
The coffee shop to the locals
Did I begin to daydream.
How nice it would have been
To have Mary Oliver in my passenger seat
As I drove up Sunrise Highway and
When I pulled off the highway, as I did,
Turned the headlights off, we both
Would have exited to a dark, cold, world.
Together we would have seen
A waning crescent moon sitting above a square of stars
With bright Jupiter standing guard to the right.
The rest of the sky, with no hint of earthly light,
Filled with stars unseen in the city we just left.
I like to think she would have taken my hand
And identified the constellation in which the moon rode.
Then she would have squeezed my hand
And said: So beautiful. Thank you.
Do you think if I promised to be quiet
And promised to sit very, very still,
She would take me with her
On a walk in the woods?