“Late in her life, when we fell in love
I’d take her out from the nursing home
for a chaser and two bourbons. She’d crack
a joke sharp as a tin lid
hot from the teeth of the can-opener,
and cackle her crack-corn laugh…”
Poem by Sharon Olds, Grandmother Love Poem
I prefer prose to poetry, but Sharon Olds puts words into my mouth like foreign foods. I don’t know if it is animal or plant, but I know it is good, it is so perfectly right. Reading her poems is like recognizing the half of me that only I know about. That inner self held tight, held down, held hidden from the surface of proper behavior.
After the Rape in Our Building
“The day after we heard about it,
We made love, in the morning, he entered me
And I thought, It’s not so bad, I could hardly feel anything,
Just something hard going in and out of me
Somewhere far away down my body
Like something seen from a distance, an ocean liner
Going down twenty miles away…”
Olds is strong, she is direct, she “carries the reader through rooms of passion and loss”. A lot has been written about Sharon Olds, that she has a raw language, that she transmits truths about violence, and sexuality, and relationships in families. For me she illuminates places most of us keep comfortably dim or covered, so they seem not to exist.
Sharon Olds’s jolting images heighten my creativity. There is an emotional beauty in her chilling tragedies. She infuses evil and cruelty in the secret corners of her poems. We understand that her childhood was very painful, but what an invincible spirit!
“My bad grandfather wouldn’t feed us.
He turned the lights out when we tried to read.
He sat alone in the invisible room
in front of the hearth, and drank. He died
when I was seven, and Grandma had never once
taken anyone’s side against him,
the firelight on his red cold face
reflecting extra on his glass eye.
Today I thought about that glass eye,
and how at night in the big double bed
he slept facing his wife, and how the limp
hole, where his eye had been, was open
towards her on the pillow, and how I am
one-fourth him, a brutal man with a
hole for an eye, and one-fourth her,
a woman who protected no one. I am their
sex, too, their son, their bed, and
under their bed the trap-door to the
cellar, with its barrels of fresh apples, and
somewhere in me too is the path
down to the creek gleaming in the dark, a
way out of there.”
Sharon Olds is a stunning poet who speaks to me. I have all of her books which I read often. And each time her words, coming from a place that is real, and opaque, and dark, give me clarity. She makes me want to paint, because my brushes are what I have. Her words are my colors, her images are my dreams.
“As we made love for the third day,
cloudy and dark, as we did not stop
but went into it and into it and
did not hesitate and did not hold back we
rose through the air, until we were up above…
…on the crest of the mountains, one huge
cloud with scalloped edges of blazing
evening light, we did not turn back,
we stayed with it, even though we were
far beyond what we knew, we rose
into the grain of the cloud, even though we were
frightened, the air hollow, even though
nothing grew there, even though it is a
place from which no one has ever come back.”
She takes me to that place, then she releases me.