Friday, April 03, 2009

Poetry 3: Sharon Olds

Thanks to Tyler for recognizing my poem about being with my dying mother. Thinking about that again reminded me of Sharon Olds's spine-chilling poems about her own mother's death. Here's an excerpt from "Last Hour," which you can find in her collection One Secret Thing (which is, by the way, a very difficult book to read, with death and abuse as common themes).

. . . Her body would breathe her,
crackle and hearth-snap of mucus, and then
she would not breathe. Sometimes it seemed
it was not my mother, as if she'd bene changelinged
with a being more suited to the labor than she,
a creature plainer and calmer, and yet
saturated with the yearning of my mother.
Palm around the infant crown of her
scalp where her heart fierce beat, palm to her
tiny shoulder, I held even with her,
and then she began to go more quickly,
to draw ahead, then she was still and her
tongue, spotted with manna spots,
lifted, and a gasp was made in her mouth,
as if forced in, then quiet. Then another
sigh, as if of relief, and then
peace. This went on for a while . . .

Amazing description of a body's last moments.

1 comment:

Tyler said...

Ah, good old Sharon Olds, the woman Roland Flint calls "our gifted and startling poet of the body." I haven't read One Secret Thing, but I have read her first two books, Satan Says and The Dead and the Living, both of which are ripe in corporeal themes---birth, death, sex, abuse---though I find considerably more hope towards the end of The Dead and the Living. Though some think she's a bit graphic (which she can sometimes be), I find her focus on the body intriguing and very visceral, very real. I think this excerpt from "Last Hour" illustrates that viscerality well.

My first interaction with Olds took place in a literature seminar on gender and sexuality. We read "The One Girl at the Boys' Party", which, as time would tell, became the poem around which I built my MA thesis (teaser of my thesis here). Since that interaction, I've really come to appreciate Olds' verse and her place in contemporary poetry.