(for Henry Averell Gerry, 1941-60)
I hardly know how to speak to you now,
you are so young now, closer to my daughter’s age
than mine — but I have been there and seen it, and must
tell you, as the seeing and hearing
spell the world into the deaf-mute’s hand.
The tiny dormer windows like the ears of a fox, like the
long row of teats on a pig, still
perk up over the Square, though they’re digging up the
street now, as if digging a grave,
the shovels shrieking on stone like your car
sliding along on its roof after the crash.
How I wanted everyone to die if you had to die,
how sealed into my own world I was,
deaf and blind. What can I tell you now,
now that I know so much and you are a
freshman still, drinking a quart of orange juice and
playing three sets of tennis to cure a hangover, such an
ardent student of the grown-ups! I can tell you
we were right, our bodies were right, life was
pleasurable in every cell.
Suddenly I remember the exact look of your body, but
better than the bright corners of your eyes, or the
puppy-fat of your thighs, or the slick
chino of your pants bright in the corners of my eyes, I
remember your extraordinary act of courage in
loving me, something no one but the
blind and halt had done before. You were
fearless, you could drive after a sleepless night
just like a grown-up, and not be afraid, you could
fall asleep at the wheel easily and
never know it, each blond hair of your head — and they were
thickly laid — put out like a filament of light,
twenty years ago. The Charles still
slides by with that ease as your death was hard,
wanted all things broken and rigid as the
bricks in the sidewalk or your love for me
stopped cell by cell in your young body,
Ave — I went ahead and had the children,
the life of ease and faithfulness,
the palm and the breast, every millimeter of delight in the body.
I took the road we stood on at the start together, I
took it all without you as if
in taking it after all I could
most honor you.
is there something embarrassing about liking sharon olds? there is something embarrassing about liking sharon olds. in fact, i don’t really like sharon olds. but i did, once, in high school, though not really the pope’s penis, the first olds poem i ever heard, when a girl read it in english class and everyone laughed at the title, which i meanly and predictably thought was very unsophisticated of them. i read first love over and over after my boyfriend died in a car crash when i was 16 and cambridge elegy, too. oh, it sounds maudlin even to say it, like i am semi-covertly hoping for pity, which is exactly the quality in olds’ poems i find so insufferable reading them as an adult. but then there is the line “i remember your extraordinary act of courage in loving me…” and i would suffer olds’ sympathy-baiting, and mine, for that.