Rosalind Moran on how 'Our World' changed their view of the unconventional.
Towards the end of April, I collected a slim volume from the letterbox. Four weeks later I was driving away from the same letterbox, the house, our home, sobbing, unsure of whether I would come back.
The book in the letterbox was one I had coveted for years but had never gotten around to buying. For all I had looked, I could not find it in bookstores–potentially a reflection of how a book of prose and photographs cataloguing a peaceful life was unlikely to sell well. If that is the case, however, I would say we are missing out.
Our World is not fiction, but it tells a story nonetheless. Compiled by the American poet Mary Oliver two years after the death of her partner, photographer Molly Malone Cook, its pages weave together memories and mementos that open a window into a shared life. Cook’s photographs and diary excerpts are complemented by Oliver’s poems and reflections. Monochrome photographs of friends and strangers lead into textual observations and discussions about art. As Oliver herself writes, between her and Cook “it was a forty-year conversation.”
The world of Oliver and Cook–so deeply entrenched in nature and in being attentive and compassionate towards it–is almost reminiscent of a fable. For me, their lives and their art offer a source of comfort. Here are two women who inhabited a tiny, contained part of the Earth, spending most of their lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts, yet their lives appear full and fulfilling. Moreover, in what concerns the coronavirus era, these two effectively chose to live a socially-distanced life on a regular basis, before it became a requirement.
Our World reminds me of how unconventional lives with unforeseen happenings need not be unhappy. There are few roadmaps for queerness, or indeed for queer love. There are similarly few reassurances regarding how the coronavirus will unfold, or whether I will drive home again. Nevertheless–a small comfort–the lives of Oliver and Cook show that roadmaps can be overrated.
Rosalind Moran has recently been writing lots of nonfiction and poetry. Her work has appeared in Meanjin, Overland, The Lifted Brow, and RABBIT, among others.
Mary Oliver (1935-2019) was one of the most celebrated modern American poets. She won both a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. Molly Malone Cook (1925-2005) used photographs to bring the poems to life.