Mary Oliver Poem Excerpt in a Mural

by Ken Bresler

A portrait of poet Mary Oliver appears in a small mural in Boston with an excerpt from her poem “Invitation.” The excerpt, as Oliver published it, is:

Mary Oliver mural.JPG

        it is a serious thing

just to be alive
  on this fresh morning
    in the broken world.

The excerpt appears in the mural with different formatting and punctuation. (“Invitation” appears in Oliver’s book Redbird.)

Lawrence Ciarallo, a muralist based in Hoboken, New Jersey, painted the mural on a cement retaining wall near the Old West Church on Cambridge Street in Boston. The mural, Ciarallo’s first in Boston, came about because a friend of his works in an organization housed in the church. His friend suggested that he paint the wall, and that suggestion led to meetings with the church’s pastor and a GoFundMe online crowdsourced campaign, which paid Ciarallo for his work.

He spent about three-and-a-half days in Boston prepping the site and spray-painting the stencils he had prepared before arriving. The other people in the mural are Melnea Cass, W. E. DuBois, and John F. Kennedy.

Why Oliver? Ciarallo went online to research famous Boston personages and added Oliver to a list, which was eventually whittled down. Oliver is actually associated with Provincetown, although most of her books have been published in Boston. In any case, Boston gladly accepts the color and poetry of Ciarallo’s new mural.

The mural was completed in November 2017, too late to be included in my book Poetry Made Visible: Boston Sites for Poetry Lovers, Art Lovers & Lovers, which was published a month earlier.

Check out the mural for yourself, which is at 131 Cambridge Street, at the intersection of Cambridge and Staniford Streets.