Friday, February 11, 2005

Tao of Olds

I found Sharon Olds via my first poetry mentor, who found my writing similar to Olds in topic and diction. Each time I read one of her poems, I am reminded of the mire of truthful poetry: how near it is to the confessional, which means it's a big target for those sneers. How there's no such thing as optimal tension and release since telling the truth comes closer to a buzz carried along power lines - the same vibratory clench of energy. It doesn't soar. It doesn't plummet.

Olds talks about early hurt. I see this feather flying upward and never reaching its destination. Her poetry crosses between despair and emotional divorce. All those words meant to purge and still, Olds doesn't say it. She describes; sometimes she's oblique. Her poems are traffic lights and street maps. Dictionaries for the emotionally illiterate.

This morning, searching for something else, I found more of Olds.


That hour, I was most myself. I had shrugged
my mother slowly off, I lay there
taking my first breaths, as if
the air of the room was blowing me
like a bubble. All I had to do
was go out along the line of my gaze and back,
feeling gravity, silk, the
pressure of the air a caress, smelling on
myself her creamy blood. The air
was softly touching my skin and mouth,
entering me and drawing forth the little
sighs I did not know as mine.
I was not afraid. I lay in the quiet
and looked, and did the wordless thought,
my mind was getting its oxygen
direct, the rich mix by mouth.
I hated no one. I gazed and gazed,
and everything was interesting, I was
free, not yet in love, I did not
belong to anyone, I had drunk
no milk yet--no one had
my heart. I was not very human. I did not
know there was anyone else. I lay
like a god, for an hour, then they came for me
and took me to my mother.


Those first weeks, I don't know if I knew
how to love our daughter. Her face looked crushed,
crumpled with worry-and not even
despair, but just depression, a look of
endurance. The skin of her face was finely
wrinkled, there were wisps of hair on her ears,
she looked a little like a squirrel, suspicious,
tranced. And smallish, 6.13,
wizened-she looked as if she were wincing
away from me without moving. The first
moment I had seen her, my glasses off,
in the delivery room, a blur of blood,
and blue skin, and limbs, I had known her,
upside down, and they righted her, and there
came that faint, almost sexual, wail, and her
whole body flushed rose.
When I saw her next, she was bound in cotton,
someone else had cleaned her, wiped
the inside of my body off her
and combed her hair in narrow scary
plough-lines. She was ten days early;
sleepy, the breast so engorged it stood out nearly
even with the nipple, her lips would so much as
approach it, it would hiss and spray.
In two days we took her home, she shrieked
and whimpered, like a dream of a burn victim,
and when she was quiet, she would lie there and peer, not quite
anxiously. I didn't blame her,
she'd been born to my mother's daughter. I would kneel
and gaze at her, and pity her.
All day I nursed her, all night I walked her,
and napped, and nursed, and walked her. And then,
one day, she looked at me, as if
she knew me. She lay along my forearm, fed, and
gazed at me as if remembering me,
as if she had known me, and liked me, and was getting
her memory back. When she smiled at me,
delicate rictus like a birth-pain coming,
I fell in love, I became human.

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