I have recently moved to Cairo and I was only able to bring one bag. I generally carry excessive quantities of books with me, but this time I had to choose one. The decision was easy: Mary Oliver's New and Selected Poems. Oliver is a phenomenal poet. Her striking images of the natural world are blended with compassion and a Zen-Buddhist spirituality. She continually reminds me of the bigger spiritual force that is at work in our lives, and of the powerful healing process of identifying intimately with our surroundings. "Wild Geese" is a poem I have recited over and over again in the last 10 years. I have emailed it to friends and have it framed on my wall. It helps me to remember that life should never become too complicated (just let the soft animal of your body love what it loves), and that I am part of a much wider rhythm of life that continues whatever day-to-day obstacles are thrown in my way.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.