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The Black Snake Mary Oliver Essay

When the black snake

flashed onto the morning road,

and the truck could not swerve-

death, that is how it happens...

...he is as beautiful and quiet

as a dead brother.

I leave him under the leaves

and drive on, thinking

about death: its suddenness

its terrible weight,

its certain coming. Yet under

reason burns a brighter fire,...

It is the story of endless good fortune.

I says to oblivion: not me!'

It is the light at the center of every cell.

It is what sent the snake coiling and flowing forward

happily all spring.....before

he came to the road.

Here it is, Mary answers once again what she speaks of in previous poems, of what I hear her asking of us.How do we deal with the happenstance of death and suffering that does not seem to make sense?That even seems tragically perpetrated by our own kind?In this poem the truck could not serve, and in so many instances, the truck could swerve but the driver chooses otherwise, and even swerves to hit the snake.

In this dark early morning hour, I cannot say for sure from whence it comes, but there is humor in this poem - a laugh or a bemused feeling coming through the death that awaits us all, even all species and worlds.It is the words "not me!" that seem a set up for a movie scene or a joke where the moment you think that or say that, the next scene you torn limb from limb by some monster, alien, or deranged human or nonhuman.I think of the movie "Snakes on a Plane," funny in that in our avowal that harm will never come from us and for us, and as we suppress reality as it plays out in our own lives, we imagine things even worse.Recent ads for a new movie show giant flying sharks attacking a plane right after a man says, "this can't be happening to me, I'm getting married in 2 days!"Immediately thereafter the shark tears the plane apart.

The abundant light that is in the center of every cell, is the "not me" we shout to the heavens.It is not that death doesn't come, but that death always comes for there is no "me" apart from the world.It is not the individual dying, but the whole world that lives through the death, the light that never goes out.What a divine comedy in the tragedy and in the beauty.

Where does humor or laughter cross paths with how you deal with the world in all its stark, often uncomfortable reality?

881. Black Snake - Mary Oliver

.
The flat rock in the center of the garden
heats up every morning in the sun. Black
snake coils himself there neatly. He has
cousins who have teeth that spring up and
down and are full of the sap of death,
but what of that, so have we all. As for
his sporting life, there are many things
he can do and I have seen a few of them:
he can climb a tree and dangle like a red-
eyed rope out of its branches; he can swim;
he can catch a mouse and swallow it like
a soft stone. Also he can lie perfectly
still and stare with his lidless eyes in
the greatest hope: that you will not notice
him. If you do, however, he will loft his
chin and extrude the fray of his tongue,
which many find frightening. But tell me,
if you would praise the world, what is it
you would leave out? Besides, he is only
hoping that you will let him live his life.


And now that you have seen him, he looks
shyly at nothing and streams away into the
grass, his long body swaying like a suddenly
visible song.