Sharon Olds

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I Think Emily Dickinson Would Have Been Political Today
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Thank you very much. Partly in deference to the age in which Emily lived, and partly in deference to the climate of the room, I'm beginning my reading in gloves. Now I'm here, no I arrive--there. I think she's such an astonishing poet, such an astonishing being, that she wrote at all and that she wrote so brilliantly. That there was at that time and place a great poet is always powerfully moving to me. I especially love her rhythm. We'll all be saying what we love best, and what we feel most connected to. And since one of the things in poetry that's the strongest for me is rhythm, that was one of the things I first responded to in Emily Dickinson.

I envy Seas, whereon He rides -
I envy Spokes of Wheels
Of Chariots, that Him convey -
I envy Crooked Hills

 

That gaze upon His journey -
How easy All can see
What is forbidden utterly
As Heaven - unto me!

 

I envy Nests of Sparrows -
That dot His distant Eaves -
The wealthy fly, upon His Pane -
The happy - happy Leaves -

 

That just abroad His Window
Have Summer's leave to play -
The Ear Rings of Pizarro
Could not obtain for me -

 

I envy Light - that Wakes Him -
And Bells - that boldly ring
To tell Him it is Noon, abroad -
Myself - be noon to Him -

 

Yet interdict - my Blossom -
And abrogate - my Bee -
Lest Noon in Everlasting Night -
Drop Gabriel - and Me -

 

(JP 498)

I connect with her as a passionate woman. As an obsessed woman. I love her images also. My hand shakes today in special honor of emily, but it always shakes whenever I read poems. It's a little fear and a lot of excitement. This one was always curious to me.

My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -
In Corners - till a Day
The Owner passed - identified -
And carried Me away -

 

And now We roam in Sovreign Woods -
And now We hunt the Doe -
And every time I speak for Him -
The Mountains straight reply -

 

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow -
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through -

 

And when at Night - Our good Day done -
I guard My Master's Head -
'Tis better than the Eider-Duck's
Deep Pillow - to have shared -

 

To foe of His - I'm deadly foe -
None stir the second time -
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye -
Or an emphatic Thumb -

 

Though I than He - may longer live
He longer must - than I -
For I have but the power to kill,
Without - the power to die -

 

(JP 754)

We were talking before about the boys who say Emily. They aren't thinking of that poet who wrote that. The snake poem--

A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides -
You may have met Him - did you not
His notice sudden is -

 

The Grass divides as with a Comb -
A spotted shaft is seen -
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on -

 

He likes a Boggy acre
A Floor too cool for Corn -
Yet when a Boy, and Barefoot -
I more than once at Noon
Have passed, I thought, a Whip lash
Unbraiding in the Sun
When stooping to secure it
It wrinkled, and was gone -

 

Several of Nature's People
I know, and they know me -
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality -

 

But never met this Fellow
Attended, or alone
Without a tighter breathing
And Zero at the Bone -

 

(JP 986)

I'm always so moved by the way she says--what she means is yet when I was a young person, but what they said then was yet when I was a boy, when a boy. One more Emily Dickinson poem. I almost feel she has a rock beat. I'd almost like to work--people who put music with poems--I think she would make a wonderful--you know those MTV videos? I think it would be great! It's so sincere, and serious, what she's talking about.

Title divine - is mine!
The Wife - without the Sign!
Acute degree - conferred on me -
Empress of Cavalry!
Royal - all but the Crown!
Betrothed - without the swoon
God sends us Women -
When you - hold - Garnet to Garnet -
Gold - to Gold -
Born - Bridalled - Shrouded -
In a Day - Try Victory -
"My Husband" - women say -
Stroking the Melody -
Is this - the way?

 

(JP 1072)

I'm very honored to be reading with Denise Levertov. When I realized that I would be able to do that, I thought of another woman poet who I wished could be here today, and I wanted to read a few of her poems so that she will be here today. And in fact--I thought of this while I was sitting where you're sitting. I thought of flowers for Emily, and I was wearing something that was given me right around the time that Muriel Rukeyser was bringing out her last book, so I thought I'd put this out for them. This is a theatre, right? A theatre. This is a very interesting space too--zero at the bone, indeed. And then the knockings on the wall--I haven't had one yet. Emily, Emily! And when the mike suddenlyl goes mreeeer! But there's a lot of energy, a lot of energy moving around. Muriel Rukeyser's prose poem "Myth":

Long afterward, Oedipus, old and blinded, walked the roads.    He smelled a familiar smell.    It was the Sphinx.    Oedipus said, "I want to ask one question. Why didn't I recognize my mother?"    "You gave the wrong answer," said the Sphinx.    "But that was what made everything possible," said Oedipus.    "No," she said. "When I asked, What walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening, you answered, Man.    You didn't say anything about woman."    "When you say Man," said Oedipus, "you include women too. Everyone knows that."    She said, "That's what you think."

This is one of my favorite poems in English. It's called "Despisals":

In the human cities, never again to
despise the backside of the city, the ghetto,
or build it again as we build the despised
backsides of houses.        Look at your own building.
You are the city.
Among our secrecies, not to despise our Jews
(that is, ourselves) or our darkness, our blacks,
or in our sexuality        wherever it takes us
and we now know we are productive
too productive, too reproductive
for our present invention  --  never to despise
the homosexual who goes building another

 

with touch    with touch    (not to despise any touch)
each like himself, like herself each.
You are this.
                                                        In the body's ghetto
never to go despising the asshole
nor the useful shit that is our clean clue
to what we need.        Never to despise
the clitoris in her least speech.

 

Never to despise in myself what I have been taught
to despise.        Not to despise the other.
Not to despise the it.        To make this relation
with the it : to know that I am it.

She's so good, isn't she, Ruth [Stone]? She's so good. And then when I think of the power of poetry, and I think of Denise Levertov, and I think of Muriel Rukeyser, I think of poets against the war in Vietnam. And whatever happened, the power of those events, and of those readings, had something to do with what happened, I believe. So I wanted to read one more poem by Muriel Rukeyser, a poem written during the Vietnam war, about a cockroach, called "St. Roach":

For that I never knew you, I only learned to dread you,
for that I never touched you, they told me you are filth,
they showed me by every action to despise your kind;
for that I saw my people making war on you,
I could not tell you apart, one from another,
for that in childhood I lived in places clear of you,
for that all the people I knew met you by
crushing you, stamping you to death, they poured boiling
   water on you, they flushed you down,
for that I could not tell one from another
only that you were dark, fast on your feet, and slender.
   Not like me.
For that I did not know your poems
And that I do not know any of your sayings
And that I cannot speak or read your language
And that I do not sing your songs
And that I do not teach our children
        to eat your food
        or know your poems
        or sing your songs
But that we say you are filthing our food
But that we know you not at all.

 

Yesterday I looked at one of you for the first time.
You were lighter than the others in color, that was
   neither good nor bad.
I was really looking for the first time.
You seemed troubled and witty.

 

Today I touched one of you for the first time.
You were startled, you ran, you fled away
Fast as a dancer, light, strange and lovely to the touch.
I reach, I touch, I begin to know you.

And it's so much like your poem about going to Vietnam also. I don't know if you're going to read that today, but that wonderful poem--I'm sure they're sister poems in some way. Or mother-daughter poems, or whatever. Speaking of mother-daughter, people sometimes say, oh, being a woman poet must be so hard. And I think of all the poems that people just sort of hand you. Being a mother poet, children often just hand you a poem, especially if they're very good at something that you're very bad at. "The One Girl at the Boys' Party":

When I take my girl to the swimming party
I set her down among the boys. They tower and
bristle, she stands there smooth and sleek,
her math scores unfolding in the air around her.
They will strip to their suits, her body hard and
indivisible as a prime number,
they'll plunge in the deep end, she'll subtract
her height from ten feet, divide it into
hundreds of gallons of water, the numbers
bouncing in her mind like molecules of chlorine
in the bright blue pool. When they climb out,
her ponytail will hang its pencil lead
down her back, her narrow silk suit
with hamburgers and french fries printed on it
will glisten in the brilliant air, and they will
see her sweet face, solemn and
sealed, a factor of one, and she will
see their eyes, two each,
their legs, two each, and the curves of their sexes,
one each, and in her head she'll be doing her
wild multiplying, as the drops
sparkle and fall to the power of a thousand from her body.

 

"THE MISSING BOY"
(for Etan Patz)

Every time we take the bus
my son sees the picture of the missing boy.
He looks at it like a mirror--the dark
blond hair, the pale skin,
the blue eyes, the electric-blue sneakers with
slashes of jagged gold. But of course that
kid is little, only six and a half,
an age when things can happen to you,
when you're not really safe, and Gabriel is seven,
practically fully grown--why, he would
tower over that kid if they could
find him and bring him right here on this bus and
stand them together. He sways in the silence
wishing for that, the tape on the picture
gleaming over his head, beginning to
melt at the center and curl at the edges as it
ages. At night, when I put him to bed,
my son holds my hand tight
and says he's sure that kid's all right,
nothing to worry about, he just
hopes he's getting the food he likes,
not just any old food, but the food
he likes the most, the food he is used to.

This is my Christmas present from Ruth Stone. Isn't it beautiful? Isn't it lovely? This I keep on. This brings me poetry luck. A couple more poems from this book, and then I would like to read new poems. "Race Riot, Tulsa, 1921":

The blazing white shirts of the white men
are blanks on the page, looking at them is like
looking at the sun, you could go blind.
Under the snouts of the machine guns,
the dark glowing skin of the women and
men going to jail. You can look at the
gleaming horse-chestnuts of their faces the whole day.
All but one descend from the wood
back of the flat-bed truck. He lies,
shoes pointed North and South,
knuckles curled under on the splintered slats,
head thrown back as if he is in a
field, his face tilted up
toward the sky, to get the sun on it, to
darken it more and more toward the color of the human.

I looked for a nature poem, in honor of the occasion, and I found one. You've heard of connoisseurs of wine and cheese. The female form of the word is connoisseuse, a woman connoisseur. This is "The Connoisseuse of Slugs":

When I was a connoisseuse of slugs
I would part the ivy leaves, and look for the
naked jelly of those gold bodies,
translucent strangers glistening along the
stones, slowly, their gelatinous bodies
at my mercy. Made mostly of water, they would shrivel
to nothing if they were sprinkled with salt,
but I was not interested in that. What I liked
was to draw aside the ivy, breathe the
odor of the wall, and stand there in silence
until the slug forgot I was there
and sent its antennae up out of its
head, the glimmering umber horns
rising like telescopes, until finally the
sensitive knobs would pop out the ends,
delicate and intimate. Years later,
when I first saw a naked man,
I gasped with pleasure to see that quiet
mystery reenacted, the slow
elegant being coming out of hiding and
gleaming in the dark air, eager and so
trusting you could weep.

I keep thinking about Emily and women, Emily and her mother, Emily as a mother of us all. So I wanted to start with a poem that goes back to that. A poem called "The First Two Weeks":

When I wonder about myself,
I remember the first two weeks of my life, how I was drenched
with happiness. Birth was easy. The wall opened
like liquid, I felt it part as my scalp slid through, my head, I
pushed off, from the side, and sailed
gently, turned, squeezed out
neatly into the cold bright
air and breathed it. Clean, wrapped,
I slept, and when I woke there was the breast
the size of my head, hard and sweet,
the springy brachs of the nipple. Sleep.
Milk. Heat. Two weeks of milk and sleep. Once a day
she held me up to the window and wagged
my fist at my sister, down in the street, who
waved her cone back at me so
hard the ice cream flew through the air like a
butter-brickle cannonball,
but otherwise it was fire and silk, sleep and milk,
by day my mother's, and by night the nurses
in the feeding station would prop me with a bottle. Paradise
had its laws, too--every four hours and not
a minute sooner I could drink, but every four
hours I could have all I wanted, the world in my mouth.
Solar orbit of my soft palate, little earths of the tongue hurling within me.
Two weeks to let the mother heal,
and then home, to the maid's room down at the end of the long hall,
far from my mother,
where at night the nanny gave me four ounces of
water every four hours and in the meantime I screamed for it.
They knew it would build my character,
two weeks old, to learn to give up, and I learned it--dawn
and the streaked, satiny planet of the breast, the burp, the boiled
sheet to be placed on where my sister couldn't touch me,
I lay and moved my legs and arms like
little feelers in the light. Glorious life!
And it would always be there, back behind those nights
of screaming and tap water, all the way back,
I would always have it,
that two weeks of enough milk,
every four hours--hot little clock of sweet cream
and flame, I have known heaven.

I went to a chamber music concert for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I'd never been where they play the violins and cellos in the room with you. And i saw them, sweating and moving around and writhing and smiling at each other and stamping their feet, and I felt much less ashamed then of the physical way poetry takes me. And the way it moves through the body as well as, you know, just through the voice. So I felt that gave me permission to wiggle more, up here. Because Emily is a pioneer, I wanted to read another pioneer poem. "For and Against Knowledge":
(for Christa McAuliffe)

If you don't have to ask it,
Fine, but I have to ask it.
If I were her mother or husband, I would
Have to go through the center of it.
What happened to her? As long as it was she,
what did she see? Strapped in,
tilted back, so her back was toward
the planet she was leaving, feeling the Gs
press her with their enormous palm, did she
weep with excitement in the roar, and in
the the curve of her tear did she see for an instant
the first blush of fire?? If she were my daughter,
I'd want to know how she died--was she
torn apart, was she burned--the way
I wonder about the first seconds
of our girl's life, when she was a cell
a cell had just entered, she hung in me
a ball of bright liquid, without nerves,
without eyes or memory, it was
she, I loved her. So I want to slow it
down, and take each millisecond
up, take her, at each point,
in my mind's arms--the first brilliant
shock hit, as if God touched
her brain with a thumb and it went out, like a mercy killing,
and then, when it was not she,
the the fire came--the way we burned my father
when he had left himself. Then the massive bloom un-
buckled and jumped, she was vaporized back
down to the level of the cell. And the spirit--
I have never understood the spirit,
all I know is the shape it takes,
this wavering flame of flesh. Those
who know about the spirit may tell you
where she is, and why. What I want
to do is find each cell,
slip it out of the fishes' mouths,
ash in the tree, soot in your eyes
where she enters our lives, I want to play it
backwards, burning jigsaw puzzle
of flesh suck in its million stars
to meet, in the sky, boiling metal
fly back
together, and cool.
Pull that rocket
back down
surely to earth, open the hatch
and draw them out like fresh puppies,
sort them out, family by family, go
away, disperse, do not meet here.

Someone asked me today about the World war II book that I've been working on for a long time now. And I realized I haven't yet chosen a poem from the war book to read here today. I think she would have been--I think she's political, intensely political. And I think in other times and in other circumstances, the kind of astonishing action she took in doing that writing would have found expression perhaps in other ways, as well as they were possible. And then what we always want to remember is the joy and the play of writing her poems. So this is one of the poems from the war book. It's called "He Comes For the Jewish Family, 1942":

When the German came, they knew he would take them.
They knew his body hated them,
they could feel it in their bodies when he looked at them,
a kind of wax spread over their skin.
They didn't hate anything like that,
not even the pig, who was merely unclean,
so they knew he was capable of anything.
They had heard about trucks, they could smell his passion
to put them in trucks, he would do it to the children
as avidly as to them. He came and they
looked at their daughter standing with her music
in her hand, the page covered with dots and
lines like some dark language, and they knew
he would take her, their bodies even knew about the camps,
they could smell his gold hair smoking,
they knew it was the end. What they did not know was the
way he would pick her cello up
by the scroll neck and take its dark
lovely body shape and break it
against the fireplace. The brickwork crushed the
amber satiny wood, they stood and
stared at him in terror.

I find her also such a passionate love poet. So I wanted to read a love poem in her honor. It's called "After Making Love, Winter":

At first, I cannot have even a sheet on me,
anything at all is painful, a plate of
iron on my nerves, I lie there in the air,
as if flying rapidly without moving,
and slowly I cool off--hot,
warm, cool, cold, icy, till the
skin all over my body is icy
except at those points our bodies touch
like plumes of fire. Around the door,
loose in its frame, and and around the transom,
the light from the the hall burns in lines
and casts up narrow beams on the ceiling like a
figure throwing up its arms for joy.
In the mirror, the angles of the room are calm,
it is the hour when you can see that the angle itself is blessed,
The dark globes of the chandlier,
suspended in the mirror, are motionless.
I can feel my ovaries deep in my body. I gaze at the silvery bowls.
Maybe I am
looking at my ovaries, it is
clear everything I look at is good and real
and good. We have come to the end of questions,
you run your palm, warm, large, dry, back along my face
over and over, over and over, like God
putting the finishing touches on, before
sending me down to be born.

 

"Adolescence"

 

When I think of my adolescence, I think
of the bathroom of those seedy hotels
in San Francisco, where my boyfriend took me.
I had never seen bathrooms like that--
no curtains, no towels, no mirror, just
a sink green with grime and a toilet
yellow and black--like something in a science experiment,
growing the plague in bowls.
Sex was still a crime, then,
I'd sign out of my college dorm
to a false destination, sign into
the flophouse under a false name,
go down the hall to the one bathroom
and lock myself in. And I could not learn to get that
diaphragm in, I'd decorate it
like a cake, with glistening spermicide,
and lean down, and it would leap from my fingers
and sail into a corner, to land
in a concave depression like a rat's nest,
I'd bend and pluck it out and wash it
and wash it down to that fragile dome,
I'd frost it again till it was shimmering
and bend it into its little arc and it would
fly through the air, rim humming
like Saturn's ring, I would bow down and crawl to retrieve it.
When I think of being nineteen
that's what I see, that delicate disc
floating through the air and descending, I see myself
kneeling and reaching, reaching for my life.

I wanted to read this one because it's new, and then I thought that this was also an appropriate place to read it. It sort of takes place in the mind of a seven-, eight-, nine-year-old child in a high Episcopal family, Protestant, but almost so you can't tell. And it's called "Christian Child":

I remember the dark maroon of the armrests, real imitation velvet,
the nap that would jerk gently back and forth
under my thumb. I still sucked it,
seven years old, eight, nine,
I remember the soft feathery darkness vast around us, a real
theater, my mother next to me.
I was allowed one movie a year on Good Friday, a three hour movie
because Jesus hung on the cross
from noon to three on an April after-
noon in A.D. 33.
There was no baby, no comet, no cow, no gift.
There was Palm Sunday. The not-man,
almost like a Bearded Lady coming in on the burro,
The Last Supper, family mealtime
tainted and uneasy. That whole family of grown boys hairy and in nightees. The night in the garden.
The name of garden like close sesame.
Everyone else slept but the isolated boy. And then the kiss, as if
every good thing would be taken
and turned to bad. Thirty pieces of silver
like the change in my mother’s purse I took to buy doughnuts. Planetary rings of glazed isolated pleasure. The Roman
shields, swords, thick red shaving brush cock’s combs curved forward
over the soldiers’ heads. And then the king,
washing and washing his hands as if power were a stain
to come off, and the crowd chose the thief.
The brat with the name like Briar Rabbit,
the one who filched coins.
It was all so terrible, wonderful, huge, enormous before us in the dark.
My mother rigid, the crown a cross
between barbed wire and a woven Easter basket,
they set it on his head and pounded it into
his scalp gently, with a wooden mallet. Of course, they made him
carry his own cross through the streets, the way you have to eat the cold food
you left from the last meal before you’ll be given hot. But then they took his
real hand, and held the fingers open, and poised
the blunt point of that uneven spike in the center of his palm
where you can hold your soul, and they hammered it,
the other hand, the way they
crossed the thin parts of the feet
to save a nail. I didn’t get sick; I had a strong stomach.
But something in me had to bend to get the knowledge to my brain,
past my heart, that this was what people do to each other,
the spear delicately opening the oval spear-shaped slit in his side.
When he said I thirst,
like a kid in bed at night and they
raised the sponge like a wet rice-crispy on the end of that long stick and the sponge was soaked in vinegar,
my mouth was open and my
eyes so open my sockets ached--I
held the animal scurf of the armrest
and felt my mother’s body shake
with terrible passion. Then they brought his mother
to the base of the cross. She looked up, up,
up, until she could see her boy.
He gave her to his friend. He turned his head and
spoke to the thief on the cross to his right, This
evening, thou shalt be with me
in Paradise
, I heard his deep male voice
and some other noise, some bad mammal sound
in the theatre, a trapped hog cry
that was coming from my own mouth. It is finished, he whispered,
and then, thank God, he died.
Loud music, violins, horns, the lights came up.
I saw my own hand on the dark red velvet.
I saw the horrible world. On Sunday, they would find
the stone rolled away from the tomb, his diaper perfectly folded. People would
stick the length of their finger into
the holes in him. He would walk on the lake
easily, sweetly. But now it was Friday,
electric chair day. And first, I had to strip to the waist
from the floor up and wait on the exact center of her rug.
Not today. This was Good Friday.
Only two more days till they hid the eggs, those
beautiful rosy ovals, the chick all chalky oak,
and they gave you a chocolate rabbit for the end of Lent.
I’d start with the ears, solid, something to
grind my molars and canines
against, and then come to the hollow body, one
bite and it exploded.
Fragile, powerful, sweet. A threat, and a promise.

I'll read two more poems. I usually try to go sad--funny--sad--funny. But some of my funny ones are so questionable in taste. Oh, I know one that isn't. But I don't have it up here with me. Well, I'll turn them around. I'll read the happier one first. I'll read two more. "May 1968":

The Dean of the University said the neighborhood people could not cross campus
until the students gave up the buildings,
so we lay down, in the street,
we said the cops will enter this gate
over our bodies. Spine down on the cobbles
hard bed like a carton of eggs,
I saw the buildings of New York City
from dirt level, they soared up
and stopped, as if chopped off cleanly--beyond them, the sky,
dark and neither sour nor sweet,
the night air over the island.
The mounted police moved, near us,
delicately. Flat out on our backs, we sang, and then I began to count,
12, 13, 14, 15,
I counted again, 15, 16, one
month since the day on that deserted beach,
when we used nothing, 17, 18, my mouth fell open,
my hair in the soil,
if my period did not come tonight
I was pregnant. I looked up at the sole of a
cop's shoe, I looked up at the horse's belly, its genitals--
if they took me to Women's Detention and did
the exam on me, jammed the unwashed speculum
high inside me, the guard's three fingers--I lay on Broadway.
I looked up into the horse's tail
like a dark-filthed comet. All week, I had
wanted to get arrested, longed
to give myself away. I lay in the tar--
one brain in my head, and another tiny brain, at the base of my tail--
And I stared at the world.
Good luck iron arc of the gelding's
shoe, the man's
baton, the deep curve of the animal's belly, the buildings streaming up
away from the earth. I gazed at it with my mouth open
as if I had never seen it before. I knew I should get up
and leave, stand up to muzzle level,
to the height of the soft, velvet nostrils and walk away,
turn my back on my friends and danger.
But I was a coward, so I lay there looking up at the sky,
black vault arched above us, I lay there gazing up
at God, at his underbelly, until it turned deep blue and then
silvery, colorless, Give me this one
night
, I said, and I'll give this child
the rest of my life
, the horses' heads,
drooping, dipping, until they slept in a dark circle about my body and my daughter.

And I want to close with this for Emily, for Muriel, for all of us. "My Father's Ashes":

The urn was so heavy, small but so heavy,
I could hardly lift it like the time, weeks before he died,
when he needed to pee, and I helped to lift him. Got my shoulder
under his armpit, my cheek along his
naked freckled warm back
while she fumbled in front with the urinal --he had
lost half his body weight
and yet he was so heavy we could hardly hold him up
till he got the fluid out crackling and
sputtering like a gold fire. The smooth, stainless urn
had that same kind of final heaviness, it warmed
slowly to my touch as I stood rubbing it under
the blue fir tree, stroking it
as I had stroked his skin after he died, in firm, steady circles.
Near us, the shovel got the last dirt
out of the grave--it must have made that
kind of gritty iron noise when they
scraped his ashes out of the grate--
the others would be here any minute and I
wanted to open the urn as if then
I would finally know him. On the wet lawn,
under the trees with their small cones sealed in a heavy cloak of rosin, I
tore my nails trying to open
the thin, recessed, central top like his Humidor lid.
I clawed at it, like someone trying to escape
from a stone cell with their bare hands, and
then it gave and slipped off easily and
there it was, the actual matter of this earth:
small, speckled balls of bone
like tiny eggs; a darkened bent curl of bone like a
black fungus arching to fit the curve of a branch;
spotted pebbles--and the spots were the channels of his marrow
where the living orbs of the molecules
swam powerfully as if by their own strong will
and in each cell the chromosomes
tensed and flashed, tore themselves
away from themselves like lovers, leaving their shining
duplicates. I looked at the jumble
of shards like a crushed hive: the mass of broken order.
was that the bone of his wrist, was that
from the large elegant knee
he had bent in the sun and flexed in the water,
over and over, was that
his jaw, his skull that at birth was
flexible yet-I stood and loved him,
bone and the ash it lay in, silvery
white as the shimmering coils of dust
the earth leaves behind as it rolls, you can
hear its heavy roaring as it rolls away.

Sharon Olds Bio

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