I turned thirty-seven yesterday. Because it’s a prime-number birthday, I threw myself a party. It’s been six years since my last prime-number birthday party; the theme then was Guilty Pleasures, and I invited nearly everybody I knew. This time I threw a poetry night, and Kris convinced me to keep the guest list small.

I had an awesome time.

The food was great: pickled carrots, pickled olives, pickled aspargus, pickled cucumbers, two types of little smokies, various nuts and crackers and breads, myriad cheeses, salami, and all sorts of chocolate treats. Guests brought wine, and Kris and I broke open the bar.

Throughout the night, we gathered in the parlor periodically to share poems. I was worried that this might fall flat, but it actually seemed to work quite well, despite the lack of seating. The big winner of the night was actually Mary Oliver. Three (four?) people shared her poems. Courtney read the following:

When Death Comes
by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

and Naomi read this, which I think is brilliant:

by Mary Oliver
You can
die for it—
an idea,
or the world. People

have done so,
their small bodies be bound

to the stake,
an unforgettable
fury of light. But

this morning,
climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar
fabric of dawn, I thought

of China,
and India
and Europe, and I thought
how the sun

for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises

under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?

What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it

whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter

I’m taking the day off from work tomorrow. Every year I take a day off for my birthday: it’s a personal holiday. If I’m lucky, the sun will shine and I’ll be able to mow the lawn, take a walk, and perhaps photograph the magnolia and the camellias. And, of course, I’ll take time to have lunch at the Chinese place!

6 Replies to “I Am So Many!”

  1. J.D. says:

    Rhonda’s contribution to the evening was amusing:

    Let Us Now Praise Prime Numbers
    by Helen Spalding

    Let us now praise prime numbers
    With our fathers who begat us:
    The power, the peculiar glory of prime numbers
    Is that nothing begat them,
    No ancestors, no factors,
    Adams among the multiplied generations.

    None can foretell their coming.
    Among the ordinal numbers
    They do not reserve their seats, arrive unexpected.
    Along the lines of cardinals
    They rise like surprising pontiffs,
    Each absolute, inscrutable, self-elected.

    In the beginning where chaos
    Ends and zero resolves,
    They crowd the foreground prodigal as forest,
    But middle distance thins them,
    Far distance to infinity
    Yields them rare as unreturning comets.

    O prime improbable numbers,
    Long may formula-hunters
    Steam in abstraction, waste to skeleton patience:
    Stay non-conformist, nuisance,
    Phenomena irreducible
    To system, sequence, pattern or explanation.

    But reall, I loved all the poems, except the one Dave read.

  2. Blogeois says:

    Happy belated Prime-Number Birthday. The weather looks good. Have a great day off!

  3. Josh says:

    I loved all the poems, except the one Dave read.

    Those poems are not my poems! 😉

    Thanks for getting older. Great excuse for a party!

    Oh, and for future reference, red wine, rosemary vodka, single-malt scotch, and sour-mash bourbon are not a good combination.

    Next time, I’m sticking with tequila.

  4. John says:

    Happy belated birthday, J.D.! You’re now officially more than 90% of 40! (ducking and running)

    Sounds like a great party, though I’d never heard of so many varieties of pickled foodstuffs!

  5. Jenn says:

    I love those poems by Mary Oliver. Reading them, being able to pause and think about a phrase, and to determine your own pace, makes the poems so much more personal and meaningful. Thanks for posting them. Thanks for the lovely party!

  6. Lee says:

    Happy birthday! You are now in your late middle 30s. Next year you will be in your early late 30s. 🙂

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