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-
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.]

Copyright © 2010 by Sharon Olds, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.