Issue 5: Sharon Olds

French Bra

Then low in a Paris shop window, near my

ankle-bone, like a Hermes heel-wing

fitted with struts and ailerons,

fragile as a silk biplane, the soutien-

gorge lay, lissome, uncharged,

slack as a snakeskin husk.  I stopped,

I howled in seventh-grade French.  The cups were

lace net, intricate as curtains in a

bee’s house, in a kitchen where honey’s

on the stove, in the mouth, in the pants – and there were pants,

in eyelet applique, and gold

pinions like brushes of touch along the tops of the

poitrine – and it’s as if my body has not

heard, or hasn’t believed the news,

it wants to go in there, and pick up those wisps,

those hippolyta harnesses, on its pinky,

and bring them home to my ex and me,

mon ancien mari et moi.  It’s as if

I’d been in a club, with him, with secret

handshakes, and secret looks, and touches,

and charmeuse was in the club with us, and

ribbon, they were our wing’d attendants –

and satin, and dotted swiss, they were our

language, our food and furniture,

our garden and transportation and philosophy

and church, stateless state and deathless

death, our music and war.  Everyone

dies.  Sometimes a beloved dies,

and sometimes love.  Such far worse happens,

this seems it should be a toy lament,

a doll’s dressmaker’s dummy’s song,

though people are often murdered, to celebrate

the death of love.  I stand, for a moment,

looking down, at the empty costumes

of luxury, the lingerie ghosts of my sojourn.

Baby Want

When I heard a baby call out, suddenly

I wanted to be inconvenient to my mother,

to summon her, to wake in her

a pull to come toward me, even at a time

she did not want to, especially at a time

she did not want to –

I want to send my little melody

out, and bring a mother back

with it.  When the world was still scored in crib-time,

I was a fisher of women, I cast

my hookless vowel out.  Now,

I want to replay it, the instant her consciousness would

suddenly include me, and warp toward me,

there’s almost affection in the malice with which

I want my heart’s darling, commander

of my bowels, to be annoyed, I want

to turn over, in the womb, in the night,

under Orion, in my mother’s sleep,

and lean – against the warm, amber

pillow of her full bladder – my birth-term weight.

Funny I Wasn’t

It’s funny I wasn’t afraid of my mother

after she was dead – say an hour after.

It’s strange to me.  As she did her long,

complex dying – breathing, not breathing, then

the baby rattle, the diamondback rales, then her

face moistening, as if it was lifting

into a low cloud, or lowering

over a stove, a kettle for a steamer, God’s

kitchen towel over her head – as she

died, and died, it was as if I was

with our species at its nuptials with its

dying.   I held her, circled in my arm,

not to hold her back, and yet

how could she go, as if the blue-wreathed

planet itself were departing, and I was

standing on something, waving to the earth as it got

smaller.  And then, there she was –

the material object, and yet fresh

as a fresh-born baby released from the sea

of the womb.  Who could have feared the new, the

little, motionless soldier of her.

And an hour later, once I had turned

away, and come back, she wasn’t at all like the

night-terrors figure, who used to hover

above me, in my bed, in the night.  Dead,

her forehead did assume a faint

shell of garden snail look, but she was

nothing like that airborne, prone

hecate with the wounded and wounding face.

No longer.  She was gone to where

they cannot scare you, any more,

no one, now, stood between

me and my life – unless there was a small

figure taking shape in me,

copying the scepter on

the hospice gurney.  From now on,

it couldn’t be my mother who was fearsome to me.

It would have to be me.

Sharon Olds teaches in the Graduate Writing Program at New York University. Her next book, Stags Leap (Poems 1997-2001), an end of long marriage book, will be ready in about a year.