his stillness :: sharon olds

The doctor said to my father, “You asked me
to tell you when nothing more could be done.
That’s what I’m telling you now.” My father
sat quite still, as he always did,
especially not moving his eyes. I had thought
he would rave if he understood he would die,
wave his arms and cry out. He sat up,
thin, and clean, in his clean gown,
like a holy man. The doctor said,
“There are things we can do which might give you time,
but we cannot cure you.” My father said,
“Thank you.” And he sat, motionless, alone,
with the dignity of a foreign leader.
I sat beside him. This was my father.
He had known he was mortal. I had feared they would have to
tie him down. I had not remembered
he had always held still and kept quiet to bear things,
the liquor a way to keep still. I had not
known him. My father had dignity. At the
end of his life his life began
to wake in me.

i could not tell :: sharon olds

I could not tell I had jumped off that bus,
that bus in motion, with my child in my arms,
because I did not know it. I believed my own story:
I had fallen, or the bus had started up
when I had one foot in the air.

I would not remember the tightening of my jaw,
the irk that I’d missed my stop, the step out
into the air, the clear child
gazing about her in the air as I plunged
to one knee on the street, scraped it, twisted it,
the bus skidding to a stop, the driver
jumping out, my daughter laughing
Do it again.

I have never done it
again, I have been very careful.
I have kept an eye on that nice young mother
who lightly leapt
off the moving vehicle
onto the stopped street, her life
in her hands, her life’s life in her hands.

crazy :: sharon olds

I’ve said that he and I had been crazy
for each other, but maybe my ex and I were not
crazy for each other. Maybe we
were sane for each other, as if our desire
was almost not even personal—
it was personal, but that hardly mattered, since there
seemed to be no other woman
or man in the world. Maybe it was
an arranged marriage, air and water and
earth had planned us for each other—and fire,
a fire of pleasure like a violence
of kindness. To enter those vaults together, like a
solemn or laughing couple in formal
step or writhing hair and cry, seemed to
me like the earth’s and moon’s paths,
inevitable, and even, in a way,
shy—enclosed in a shyness together,
equal in it. But maybe I
was crazy about him—it is true that I saw
that light around his head when I’d arrive second
at a restaurant—oh for God’s sake,
I was besotted with him. Meanwhile the planets
orbited each other, the morning and the evening
came. And maybe what he had for me
was unconditional, temporary
affection and trust, without romance,
though with fondness—with mortal fondness. There was no
tragedy, for us, there was
the slow-revealed comedy
of ideal and error. What precision of action
it had taken, for the bodies to hurtle through
the sky for so long without harming each other.

take the I out :: sharon olds

But I love the I, steel I-beam
that my father sold. They poured the pig iron
into the mold, and it fed out slowly,
a bending jelly in the bath, and it hardened,
Bessemer, blister, crucible, alloy, and he
marketed it, and bought bourbon, and Cream
of Wheat, its curl of butter right
in the middle of its forehead, he paid for our dresses
with his metal sweat, sweet in the morning
and sour in the evening. I love the I,
frail between its flitches, its hard ground
and hard sky, it soars between them
like the soul that rushes, back and forth,
between the mother and father. What if they had loved each other,
how would it have felt to be the strut
joining the floor and roof of the truss?
I have seen, on his shirt-cardboard, years
in her desk, the night they made me, the penciled
slope of her temperature rising, and on
the peak of the hill, first soldier to reach
the crest, the Roman numeral I–
I, I, I, I,
girders of identity, head on,
embedded in the poem. I love the I
for its premise of existence–our I–when I was
born, part gelid, I lay with you
on the cooling table, we were all there, a
forest of felled iron. The I is a pine,
resinous, flammable root to crown,
which throws its cones as far as it can in a fire.

chamber thicket :: sharon olds

As we sat at the feet of the string quartet,
in their living room, on a winter night,
through the hardwood floor spurts and gulps
and tips and shudders came up, and the candle-scent
air was thick-alive with pearwood,
ebony, spruce, poplar, and horse
howled, and cat skreeled, and then,
when the Grösse Fugue was around us, under us,
over us, in us, I felt I was hearing
the genes of my birth-family, pulled, keening
and grieving and scathing, along each other,
scraping and craving, I felt myself held in that
woods of hating longing, and I knew
and knew myself, and my parents, and their parents,
there—and then, at a distance, I sensed,
as if it were thirty years ago,
a being, far off yet, oblique-approaching,
straying toward, and then not toward,
and then toward this place, like a wandering dreaming
herdsman, my husband. And I almost wanted
to warn him away, to call out to him
to go back whence he came, into some calmer life,
but his beauty was too moving to me,
and I wanted too much to not be alone, in the
covert, any more, and so I prayed him
come to me, I bid him hasten, and good welcome.

q :: sharon olds

Q belonged to Q.&A.,
to questions, and to foursomes, and fractions,
it belonged to the Queen, to Quakers, to quintets—
within its compound in the dictionary dwelt
the quill pig, and quince beetle,
and quetzal, and quail. Quailing was part of Q’s
quiddity—the Q quaked
and quivered, it quarrelled and quashed. No one was
quite sure where it had come from, but it had
travelled with the K, they were the two voiceless
velar Semitic consonants, they went
back to the desert, to caph and koph.
And K has done a lot better—
29 pages in Webster’s Third
to Q’s 13. And though Q has much
to be proud of, from Q.& I. detector
through quinoa, sometimes these days the letter
looks like what medical students called the
Q face—its tongue lolling out.
And sometimes when you pass a folded
newspaper you can hear from within it
a keening, from all the Q’s who are being
set in type, warboarded,
made to tell and tell of the quick and the
Iraq dead.

the language of the brag :: sharon olds

I have wanted excellence in the knife-throw,
I have wanted to use my exceptionally strong and accurate arms
and my straight posture and quick electric muscles
to achieve something at the center of a crowd,
the blade piercing the bark deep,
the haft slowly and heavily vibrating like the cock.
I have wanted some epic use for my excellent body,
some heroism, some American achievement
beyond the ordinary for my extraordinary self,
magnetic and tensile, I have stood by the sandlot
and watched the boys play.
I have wanted courage, I have thought about fire
and the crossing of waterfalls, I have dragged around
my belly big with cowardice and safety,
stool charcoal from the iron pills,
huge breasts leaking colostrum,
legs swelling, hands swelling,
face swelling and reddening, hair
falling out, inner sex
stabbed and stabbed again with pain like a knife.
I have lain down.
I have lain down and sweated and shaken
and passed blood and shit and water and
slowly alone in the center of a circle I have
passed the new person out
and they have lifted the new person free of the act
and wiped the new person free of that
language of blood like praise all over the body.
I have done what you wanted to do, Walt Whitman,
Allen Ginsberg, I have done this thing,
I and the other women this exceptional
act with the exceptional heroic body,
this giving birth, this glistening verb,
and I am putting my proud American boast
right here with the others.