Poetry and Rosemary

 In Resources

Excerpted from my July 2023 newsletter. 


I often get ideas for poems from the news. (Not, like, the capital N headline “NEWS” but smaller stories that are a few pages back from front or a few scrolls down the screen). This poem was inspired by an article I read about Virginia Oliver, a woman who has been fishing for lobster most of her life. It was first published in Thimble Literary Magazine, which is “based on the belief that poetry is like armor,” and is one of my favorite journals. They publish some amazing work.

The oldest lobster fisher in the world says she might as well keep doing it

For Virginia Oliver, age 101

The boat may fiddle and drift a bit nowadays
as it carves into the silver lines of the marsh.
Fishing for 93 years has leathered her hands, but she’s
undaunted by the skirmish of wire traps and sodden ropes,
still loves the hush of reeds in the breeze,
tells time by the clink of the ship’s bell.

I stare at the unweeded garden
and think about all I have not kept doing.
What I walked away from as a child because
I couldn’t stand being bad at things.
I want to toddle back there and
peek over the kitchen counter,
eyes ablaze with excitement
and a willingness to fail. 

There must have been lobsters that fell out,
slipped her grip and plunged back into the sea.
Maybe she didn’t mind. She could come back tomorrow.
As the years went on, the weight of what she did do
mounting and clattering in the dusk.


I didn’t know I needed this poem until I wrote it. Sometimes I can get caught in cycles of negative self-talk, only able to focus on how much I haven’t accomplished, what I could be doing that I’m not, projects I’ve started and then abandoned. Arriving at the last line of this poem reminded me to focus on the things I have done. Little bits each day, which, over time make up something living, something substantial. It’s also helpful to remind myself that while the list of things I have done in my life is finite, the list of things I haven’t done or could do is infinite–– so if I’m counting, the scales will always be tipped in favor of what I haven’t accomplished.

I return to this poem to remind myself to put more emotional weight on the side of what I have done.

Spotted around the yard: Rosemary

I’m eternally grateful to have a large rosemary bush in my yard. I cook with the leaves, eagerly await its blue flowers (and the attendant bees) in early spring, and watch for signs of new growth. Brushing against it immediately surfaces a kaleidoscope of memories and thoughts, like cooking with and for friends and family, of summer days on the central coast of California, where the plant grows enthusiastically and casts its scent into the afternoon air, and of one of our family cats, Joey, who loved to sit literally inside a rosemary bush on hot days and then would emerge, smelling like the leaves. I’m always amazed at how much memory and significance can emerge from a single plant when I give it my attention–– which is one of the reasons I love taking my writing practice outside.

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