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Stephanie Land And W.S. Merwin Reflect On The Importance Of Making Mistakes

Len Jenshel
Poet W.S. Merwin

Stephanie Land knew in fourth grade that she wanted to become a professional writer. She's written for the New York Times and the Washington Post about the obstacles thrown in her path by the challenges of single parenthood.

"For two decades I wrote horrible poems," Land writes. "I believed in soul mates. I devoured books. I drank too many jugs of wine. I sowed my wild oats.
In living a life I thought was worthy of writing about, I wasn’t what you’d call a responsible person. I got married and divorced in quick succession. I found out I was pregnant.

Things fall into line fast when you are suddenly solely responsible for raising another human. I had no idea what I was supposed to be. But I knew I never wanted to look back on my life and say “I wanted to be a writer.”

I fought for years in pursuit of my dream. I still made mistakes. I made them daily.

I moved us to Missoula. I graduated college. Today I sit at my desk off the kitchen in our small apartment, nestled between these mountains, working from home as a writer and raising my daughters.

I think about the fourth grader I was, deciding on a sort of dream job with determination but not much knowledge of how to get there.

But somehow we did.

As a pairing with her thoughts, Land selected the poem, "Wild Oats," by W.S. Merwin, U.S. Poet Laureate and two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, because of one potent line: “I needed my mistakes in their own order to get me here."

Wild Oats

Watching the first sunlight
touch the tops of the palms
what could I ask

All the beads have gone
from the old string
and the string does not miss them

The daughters of memory
never pronounce
their own names

In the language of heaven
the angel said
go make your own garden

I dream I am here
in the morning
and the dream is its own time

Looking into the old well
I see my own face
then another behind it

There I am
morning clouds
in the east wind

No one is in the garden
the autumn daisies
have the day to themselves

All night in the dark valley
the sound of rain arriving
from another time

September when the wind
drops and to us it seems
that the days are waiting

I needed my mistakes
in their own order
to get me here

Here is the full moon
bringing us

I call that singing bird my friend
though I know nothing else about him
and he does not know I exist

What is it that I keep forgetting
now I have lost it again
right here

I have to keep telling myself
why I am going away again
I do not seem to listen

In my youth I believed in somewhere else
I put faith in travel
now I am becoming my own tree.

(Broadcast: "Reflections West," 6/1/16 and 12/7/16. Listen weekly on the radio, Wednesdays at 4:54 p.m.)

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