Poetry Picks: ‘Benjamin, Who Came From Who Knows Where’ by Mary Oliver

Yes, the Anythink blog is quite fond of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning poet Mary Oliver who passed away in January of this year. During last year’s Poetry Picks, Maria shared the graceful piece ‘The Wren from Carolina’ and Laura spoke to the level of awareness Oliver provides the reader in ‘Wild Geese’. Just yesterday, Cari reviewed ‘Blue Horses’, Oliver’s 2014 collection of poems. So, I apologize if you feel a bit inundated with Oliver, but there is a reason so many of us cling to her work when we reflect upon poetry that has inspired our lives. While much of her work focuses on the simplest existences in nature: a frisky hermit craba shimmering moth or a dog’s excitement in new snow; each piece has a distinct connection to the internal sensations that form us as humans.  

I will promise you that I searched for other works to share with you in honor of National Poetry Month, but I kept returning to "Benjamin, Who Came From Who Knows Where," one of my favorites, because it feels so true for where I am in my life right now. Find Benjamin and more in Oliver’s Dog Songs: Thirty-five Dog Songs and One Essay

Click the link below to listen to a recording of me reading "Benjamin, Who Came From Who Knows Where."

"Benjamin, Who Came From  Who Knows Where"

By Mary Oliver 

What shall I do? 

When I pick up the broom 

     he leaves the room. 

When I fuss with kindling he 

     runs for the yard. 

Then he’s back, and we 

     hug for a long time. 

In his low-to-the-ground chest 

     I can hear his heart slowing down. 

Then I rub his shoulders and 

     kiss his feet 

and fondle his long hound ears. 

     Benny, I say, 

don’t worry. I also know the way 

     the old life haunts the new. 

I kept returning to this poem because I am Benjamin, a rescued pup who anxiously shivers when someone drops something or raises their voice. For me, common household objects, like vacuum cords, have become akin to Superman’s kryptonite. While I am now 15 years separated from my turbulent childhood and somewhat "healed" by a supportive husband, a curious 3-year-old and an absolute passion for my work, my own brain works against me even on the best days. 

Oliver was a survivor, too. As a child she escaped a sexually abusive father and neglectful mother by entering the woods surrounding her childhood home with a notepad full of poems and stories. I found my own escape on the cement sidewalks surrounding my block, in the empty school parking lot and nearby creeks. I remember longing to be one of nature’s minutest creatures who could hide so easily or fly away almost instantly at any sign of peril. Benjamin was Oliver’s own pup, a rescue, who she knew to have been abused in his first home. Oliver’s gentle description of this darkness transitioning into a form of hard-earned trust draws me in every time I read these lines. 

No, Mary Oliver is not the only poet worthy of note, but, for me, the poems that force us to pull from within ourselves have the most impact. Keep an eye out for my second choice, as well as a look at children’s poetry later this month and please share your favorite poems in the comments below.