The Bird


The second half of this collection takes Mary Oliver through middle age and beyond: she’s 81 now. A standout is the essay called “Bird,” where Oliver recalls finding an injured seagull on the winter beach in Provincetown, where she lived for many years.

She carries it back to the house she shared with her late partner, the photographer Molly Malone Cook, and, together, they settle the gull on an “island of towels,” near a glass door that overlooks the harbor.

The gull’s injured body, Oliver says, is “a shattered elegance,” one wing broken, the other hurt, both feet withered. Nevertheless, the gull is responsive, even playful: he looks forward every day to a dip in the bathtub and then sunning himself and having his feathers smoothed by visitors. Weeks pass, the gull loses an atrophied leg, a wing, still he hangs on. Oliver writes:

But the rough-and-tumble work of dying was going on, even in the quiet body. … When I picked him up the muscles along the breast were so thin I feared for the tender skin lying across the crest of the bone. And still the eyes were full of the spices of amusement.
He was, of course, a piece of the sky. His eyes said so. This is not fact; this is the other part of knowing something, when there is no proof, but neither is there any way toward disbelief.

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