Paying Attention

An essay on the poet Mary Oliver and paying attention. We look at the world without noticing it.  She said: “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/05/mary-olivers-poetry-captures-our-relationship-technology/589039/

Here’s a Mary Oliver poem that they don’t read at any Buddhist retreat I’ve ever been to, but it is about paying attention:

I read the papers,
I unfold them and examine them in the sunlight.
The way the red mortars, in photographs,
arc down into the neighborhoods
like stars, the way death
combs everything into a gray rubble before
the camera moves on. What
dark part of my soul
shivers: you don’t want to know more
about this. And then: you don’t know anything
unless you do. How the sleepers
wake and run to the cellars,
how the children scream, their tongues
trying to swim away–
how the morning itself appears
like a slow white rose
while the figures climb over the bubbled thresholds,
move among the smashed cars, the streets
where the clanging ambulances won’t
stop all day–death and death, messy death–
death as history, death as a habit–
how sometimes the camera pauses while a family
counts itself, and all of them are alive,
their mouths dry caves of wordlessness
in the smudged moons of their faces,
a craziness we have so far no name for–
all this I read in the papers,
in the sunlight,
I read with my cold, sharp eyes.

~Mary Oliver, via Poetry Magazine (March 1986)

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