Please kiss but don’t tell.

Mary Oliver’s blisteringly beautiful poem, “Someone I know,” ticked me off. Please read the poem before I explain why.    

I know someone who kisses the way

a flower opens but more rapidly.

Flowers are sweet. They have

short, beatific lives. They offer

much pleasure. There is

nothing in the world that can be said

against them.

Sad, isn’t it, that all they can kiss

is the air.

Yes, yes! We are the lucky ones.

The poem struck a raw nerve because I just read an article about how our desire for brighter and bigger flowers is crowding cities with “useless” flowers. Bees shun these cross-pollinated nectarless flowers. Even the flowers with nectar have it buried deep inside their artificially enlarged petals, making it difficult for the bees to reach them. Our colorful home gardens are also filled with non-native plants and flowers, which are useless to the local insects who are picky eaters (they prefer local). So, why pity a poor flower when we deny it its kisses? 

Should we also pity our castrated dogs’ non-existent sex life, body shame, the oversized hormone-injected breasts of chicken, or ridicule miniature ponies who cannot reach anything? What about grading fish based on their taste or our insistence on boneless cuts of meat and fish? Why do we judge other creatures based on their value to “us?” 

Mary Oliver is a well-known naturalist, yet the poem is one of privilege over a poor flower. On the other hand, a passage from Hemingway’s “The old man and the sea,” where the fisherman feels sorry for the small birds, is strangely moving. A grizzled old fisherman braving the rough seas for his daily catch is the last person you expect to feel sad for little birds, who he thinks have a tougher life than him because they are too delicate to live off the cruel ocean.    

Emily Dickinson said, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that it’s poetry.” By those standards, this piece is also an ode to Mary Oliver’s poetry.          

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