Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does It End? by Mary Oliver

Don’t call this world adorable, or useful, that’s not it.
It’s frisky, and a theater for more than fair winds.
The eyelash of lightning is neither good nor evil.
The struck tree burns like a pillar of gold.

But the blue rain sinks, straight to the white
feet of the trees
whose mouths open.
Doesn’t the wind, turning in circles, invent the dance?
Haven’t the flowers moved, slowly, across Asia, then Europe,
until at last, now, they shine
in your own yard?

Don’t call this world an explanation, or even an education.

When the Sufi poet whirled, was he looking
outward, to the mountains so solidly there
in a white-capped ring, or was he looking

to the center of everything: the seed, the egg, the idea
that was also there,
beautiful as a thumb
curved and touching the finger, tenderly,
little love-ring,

as he whirled,
oh jug of breath,
in the garden of dust?

My mind feels a little hollow, the weight of the month is breathing on me. I keep pondering the word march, this idea that we all progress steadily forward. But what about the past? By moving forward do we abandon what we leave behind? I’m struggling to reconcile the past, while living and embracing the present.

Mary Oliver’s words, especially in this poem, delineates my ambivalence with the dance between the past and present. Most certainly it speaks to my constant preoccupation of how we all have the capacity to move forward, despite what we have experienced in the past. Just yesterday, I realized that I’ve lost two grandmothers, two grandfathers, and my own father. They are gone, but I continue to march on. The same will happen to my own daughter. When I and her father are no longer, she will forge ahead. The pain of contemplating this truth is far too much for me, as I cannot imagine a world where we don’t all occupy the same space. I am certain my father and my grandparents had the same contemplation.

But despite the obvious somberness of this realization,  in a very grand way I am filled with hope. It’s knowing that the dance has no beginning or end, that life will continue, despite the past or the future as the circle of breath endures. I believe that truth wills me to march.


What provides you with the sustenance to march despite what has happened to you in the past? Does any part of Oliver’s poem speak to you? Why?