Sharon Olds |
To say that she came into me,
from another world, is not true.
Nothing comes into the universe
and nothing leaves it.
My mother—I mean my daughter did not
She began to exist
inside me—she appeared within me.
And my mother did not enter me.
When she lay down, to pray, on me,
she was always ferociously courteous,
fastidious with Puritan fastidiousness,
but the barrier of my skin failed, the barrier of my
body fell, the barrier of my spirit.
She aroused and magnetized my skin, I wanted
ardently to please her, I would say to her
what she wanted to hear, as if I were hers.
I served her willingly, and then
became very much like her, fiercely
out for myself.
When my daughter was in me, I felt I had
a soul in me.
But it was born with her.
But when she cried, one night, such pure crying,
I said I will take care of you, I will
put you first.
I will not ever
have a daughter the way she had me,
I will not ever swim in you
the way my mother swam in me and I
felt myself swum in.
I will never know anyone
again the way I knew my mother,
the gates of the human fallen.
Sharon Olds |
How do they do it, the ones who make love
without love? Beautiful as dancers,
gliding over each other like ice-skaters
over the ice, fingers hooked
inside each other's bodies, faces
red as steak, wine, wet as the
children at birth whose mothers are going to
give them away.
How do they come to the
come to the come to the God come to the
still waters, and not love
the one who came there with them, light
rising slowly as steam off their joined
skin? These are the true religious,
the purists, the pros, the ones who will not
accept a false Messiah, love the
priest instead of the God.
They do not
mistake the lover for their own pleasure,
they are like great runners: they know they are alone
with the road surface, the cold, the wind,
the fit of their shoes, their over-all cardio-
vascular health--just factors, like the partner
in the bed, and not the truth, which is the
single body alone in the universe
against its own best time.
Sharon Olds |
The first ones were attached to my dress
at the waist, one on either side,
right at the point where hands could clasp you and
pick you up, as if you were a hot
squeeze bottle of tree syrup, and the
sashes that emerged like axil buds from the
angles of the waist were used to play horses, that
racing across the cement while someone
held your reins and you could feel your flesh
itself in your body wildly streaming.
You would come home, a torn-off sash
dangling from either hand, a snake-charmer—
each time, she sewed them back on with
thicker thread, until the seams of
sash and dress bulged like little
knots of gristle at your waist as you walked, you could
feel them like thumbs pressing into your body.
The next sash was the one Thee, Hannah!
borrowed from her be-ribboned friend
and hid in a drawer and got salve on it,
salve on a sash, like bacon grease on a snake,
God's lard on the ribbon a Quaker girl
should not want, Satan's jism on
silk delicate as the skin of a young girl's genital.
When Hannah gave up satin her father
told her she was beautiful
just as God made her.
But all sashes
lead to the sash, very sash of
very sash, begotten, not made, that my
aunt sent from Switzerland—
cobalt ripple of Swiss cotton with
clean boys and girls dancing on it.
I don't know why my mother chose it to
tie me to the chair with, her eye just
fell on it, but the whole day I
felt those blue children dance
around my wrists.
told me they had found out
the universe is a kind of strip that
twists around and joins itself, and I believe it,
sometimes I can feel it, the way we are
pouring slowly toward a curve and around it
through something dark and soft, and we are bound to
Sharon Olds |
I pull the bed slowly open, I
open the lips of the bed, get
the stack of fresh underpants
out of the suitcase—peach, white,
cherry, quince, pussy willow, I
choose a color and put them on,
I travel with the stack for the stack's caress,
dry and soft.
I enter the soft
birth-lips of the bed, take off my
glasses, and the cabbage-roses on the curtain
blur to Keats's peonies, the
ochre willow holds a cloud
the way a skeleton holds flesh
and it passes, does not hold it.
The bed fits me like a walnut shell its
meat, my hands touch the upper corners,
the lower, my feet.
It is so silent
I hear the choirs of wild silence, the
maenads of the atoms.
Is this what it feels like
to have a mother? The sheets are heavy
Ah, here is my mother,
or rather here she is not, so this is
But surely that
was paradise, when her Jell-O nipple was the
size of my own fist, in front of my
face—out of its humped runkles those
several springs of milk, so fierce
What did I think
in that brain gridded for thought, its cups
loaded with languageless rennet? And at night,
when they timed me, four hours of screaming, not a
minute more, four, those quatrains of
icy yell, then the cold tap water
to get me over my shameless hunger,
what was it like to be there when that
hunger was driven into my structure at such
heat it alloyed that iron? Where have I
been while this person is leading my life
with her patience, will and order? In the garden;
on the bee and under the bee; in the
crown gathering cumulus and
flensing it from the boughs, weeping a
rehearsal for the rotting and casting off of our
flesh, the year we slowly throw it
off like clothing by the bed covers of our lover, and dive under.
Sharon Olds |
I have heard about the civilized,
the marriages run on talk, elegant and honest, rational.
But you and I are
You come in with a bag,
hold it out to me in silence.
I know Moo Shu Pork when I smell it
and understand the message: I have
pleased you greatly last night.
quietly, side by side, to eat,
the long pancakes dangling and spilling,
fragrant sauce dripping out,
and glance at each other askance, wordless,
the corners of our eyes clear as spear points
laid along the sill to show
a friend sits with a friend here.
Sharon Olds |
She was four, he was one, it was raining, we had colds,
we had been in the apartment two weeks straight,
I grabbed her to keep her from shoving him over on his
face, again, and when I had her wrist
in my grasp I compressed it, fiercely, for a couple
of seconds, to make an impression on her,
to hurt her, our beloved firstborn, I even almost
savored the stinging sensation of the squeezing,
the expression, into her, of my anger,
"Never, never, again," the righteous
chant accompanying the clasp.
It happened very
fast-grab, crush, crush,
crush, release-and at the first extra
force, she swung her head, as if checking
who this was, and looked at me,
and saw me-yes, this was her mom,
her mom was doing this.
deeply open eyes took me
in, she knew me, in the shock of the moment
she learned me.
This was her mother, one of the
two whom she most loved, the two
who loved her most, near the source of love
Sharon Olds |
On the then-below-zero day, it was on,
near the patients' chair, the old heater
kept by the analyst's couch, at the end,
like the infant's headstone that was added near the foot
of my father's grave.
And it was hot, with the almost
laughing satire of a fire's heat,
the little coils like hairs in Hell.
And it was making a group of sick noises-
I wanted the doctor to turn it off
but I couldn't seem to ask, so I just
stared, but it did not budge.
turned his heavy, soft palm
outward, toward me, inviting me to speak, I
said, "If you're cold-are you cold? But if it's on
" He held his palm out toward me,
I tried to ask, but I only muttered,
but he said, "Of course," as if I had asked,
and he stood up and approached the heater, and then
stood on one foot, and threw himself
toward the wall with one hand, and with the other hand
reached down, behind the couch, to pull
the plug out.
I looked away,
I had not known he would have to bend
And I was so moved, that he
would act undignified, to help me,
that I cried, not trying to stop, but as if
the moans made sentences which bore
some human message.
If he would cast himself toward the
outlet for me, as if bending with me in my old
shame and horror, then I would rest
on his art-and the heater purred, like a creature
or the familiar of a creature, or the child of a familiar,
the father of a child, the spirit of a father,
the healing of a spirit, the vision of healing,
the heat of vision, the power of heat,
the pleasure of power.
Sharon Olds |
When I eat crab, slide the rosy
rubbery claw across my tongue
I think of my mother.
She'd drive down
to the edge of the Bay, tiny woman in a
huge car, she'd ask the crab-man to
crack it for her.
She'd stand and wait as the
pliers broke those chalky homes, wild-
red and knobby, those cartilage wrists, the
thin orange roof of the back.
I'd come home, and find her at the table
crisply unhousing the parts, laying the
fierce shell on one side, the
soft body on the other.
She gave us
lots, because we loved it so much,
so there was always enough, a mound of crab like a
cross between breast-milk and meat.
even had the shape of a perfect
ruined breast, upright flakes
white as the flesh of a chrysanthemum, but the
best part was the claw, she'd slide it
out so slowly the tip was unbroken,
scarlet bulb of the feeler—it was such a
kick to easily eat that weapon,
wreck its delicate hooked pulp between
palate and tongue.
She loved to feed us
and all she gave us was fresh, she was willing to
grasp shell, membrane, stem, to go
close to dirt and salt to feed us,
the way she had gone near our father himself
to give us life.
I look back and
see us dripping at the table, feeding, her
row of pink eaters, the platter of flawless
limp claws, I look back further and
see her in the kitchen, shelling flesh, her
small hands curled—she is like a
fish-hawk, wild, tearing the meat
deftly, living out her life of fear and desire.
Sharon Olds |
Three months after he lies dead, that
long yellow narrow body,
not like Christ but like one of his saints,
the naked ones in the paintings whose bodies are
done in gilt, all knees and raw ribs,
the ones who died of nettles, bile, the
one who died roasted over a slow fire—
three months later I take the pot of
tulip bulbs out of the closet
and set it on the table and take off the foil hood.
The shoots stand up like young green pencils,
and there in the room is the comfortable smell of rot,
the bulb that did not make it, marked with
ridges like an elephant's notched foot,
I walk down the hall as if I were moving through the
long stem of the tulip toward the closed sheath.
In the kitchen I throw a palmful of peppercorns into the
as if I would grow a black tree from the soup,
I throw out the rotten chicken part,
glad again that we burned my father
before one single bloom of mold could
out of him,
maybe it had begun in his bowels but we burned his
the way you burn the long blue
scarf of the dead, and all their clothing,
cleansing with fire.
How fast time goes
now that I'm happy, now that I know how to
think of his dead body every day
without shock, almost without grief,
to take it into each part of the day the
way a loom parts the vertical threads,
half to the left half to the right like the Red Sea and you
throw the shuttle through with the warp-thread
attached to the feet, that small gold figure of my father—
how often I saw him in paintings and did not know him,
the tiny naked dead one in the corner,
the mortal one.
Sharon Olds |
We played dolls in that house where Father staggered with the
Thanksgiving knife, where Mother wept at noon into her one ounce of
cottage cheese, praying for the strength not to
We kneeled over the
rubber bodies, gave them baths
carefully, scrubbed their little
orange hands, wrapped them up tight,
said goodnight, never spoke of the
woman like a gaping wound
weeping on the stairs, the man like a stuck
buffalo, baffled, stunned, dragging
arrows in his side.
As if we had made a
pact of silence and safety, we kneeled and
dressed those tiny torsos with their elegant
belly-buttons and minuscule holes
high on the buttock to pee through and all that
darkness in their open mouths, so that I
have not been able to forgive you for giving your
daughter away, letting her go at
eight as if you took Molly Ann or
Tiny Tears and held her head
under the water in the bathinette
until no bubbles rose, or threw her
dark rosy body on the fire that
burned in that house where you and I
barely survived, sister, where we
swore to be protectors.