Friday, January 29, 2016

Two Poems by Sharon Olds

The Guild

Every night, as my grandfather sat
in the darkened room in front of the fire,
the liquor like fire in his hand, his eye
glittering meaninglessly in the light
from the flames, his glass eye baleful and stony,  
a young man sat with him
in silence and darkness, a college boy
with white skin, unlined, a narrow
beautiful face, a broad domed
forehead, and eyes amber as the resin
from trees too young to be cut yet.
This was his son, who sat, an apprentice,
night after night, his glass of coals
next to the old man’s glass of coals,
and he drank when the old man drank, and he learned
the craft of oblivion—that young man
not yet cruel, his hair dark as the soil
that feeds the tree’s roots,
that son who would come to be, in his turn,
better at this than the teacher, the apprentice
who would pass his master in cruelty and oblivion,
drinking steadily by the flames in the blackness,
that young man my father.

Burn Center

When my mother talks about the Burn Center
she’s given to the local hospital
my hair lifts and waves like smoke
in the air around my head. She speaks
of the beds in her name, the suspension baths
and square miles of lint, and I think
of the years with her, as a child, as if
without skin, walking around scalded
raw, first degree burns over ninety
percent of my body. I would stick to doorways I
tried to walk through, stick to chairs as I
tried to rise, pieces of my flesh
tearing off easily as
well-done pork, and no one gave me
a strip of gauze, or a pat of butter
to melt on my crackling side, but when I would
cry out she would hold me to her
hot griddle, when my scorched head stank
she would draw me deeper into the burning
room of her life. So when she talks about her
Burn Center, I think of a child
who will come there, float in water
murky as tears, dangle suspended
in a tub of ointment, suck ice while they
put out all the tiny subsidiary
flames in the hair near the brain, and I say
let her sleep as long as it takes, let her walk out
without a scar, without a single mark
to honor the power of fire.

Sharon Olds has published several books of poetry: Satan Says, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980; The Dead and the Living, Knopf, 1984; The Gold Cell, Knopf, 1987; The Matter of This World, Slow Dancer Press, 1987; The Sign of Saturn, Secker & Warburg, 1991; The Father, Knopf, 1992; The Wellspring: Poems, Knopf, 1996; Blood, Tin, Straw, Knopf, 1999; The Unswept Room, Knopf, 2002; Strike Sparks: Selected Poems, 1980-2002, Knopf, 2004; One Secret Thing, Knopf, 2008; Stag’s Leap, Knopf, 2012.

She has been published in periodicals such as Poetry, New Yorker, Paris Review, American Poetry Review, Antioch Review, Atlantic Monthly, Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, New Republic, Nation, and many others. 

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