Sharon Olds (1942-)

Connoisseuse of Slugs

1983 When I was a connoisseuse of slugs I would part the ivy leaves, and look for the naked jelly of those gold bodies, translucent strangers glistening along the stones, slowly, their gelatinous bodies at my mercy. Made mostly of water, they would shrivel to nothing if they were sprinkled with salt, but I was not interested in that. What I liked was to draw aside the ivy, breathe the odor of the wall, and stand there in silence until the slug forgot I was there and sent it antennae up out of its head, the glimmering umber horns rising like telesopes, until finally the sensitive knobs would pop out the ends, delicate and intimate. Years later, when I first saw a naked man, I gasped with pleasure to see that quiet mystery reenacted, the slow elegant being coming out of hiding and gleaming in the dark air, eager and so trusting you could weep.

January, Daughter

The last night before you were born, you were almost complete, your mind busy, without language, but full of motion which would never be remembered or know itself. The last night that you did not exist, nine months before that-- from here it looks almost impossible, our path to you and not one of the others. If we had to go back and find you again, like families looking for each other after war-- it frightens me how close we came to missing you. If we had not walked down that beach, if that side of the island had not been deserted...Like a violent, delicate job of rescue we got you out. Again, we're in the month of Saturn, its rings coiled loose around its body, glittering disks of dust which we would step through if we gave our weight to them, yet we walked across them and stood at the moment of your appearing.

On the Subway

The boy and I face each other. His feet are huge, in black sneakers laced with white in a complex pattern like a a set of intentional scars. We are stuck on opposite sides of the car, a couple of molecules stuck in a rod of light rapidly moving through darkness. He has the casual cold look of a mugger, alert under hooded lids. He is wearing red, like the inside of the body exposed. I am wearing dark fur, the whole skin of an animal taken and used. I look at his raw face, he looks at my fur coat, and I didn't know if I am in his power- he could take my coat so easily, my briefcase, my life- of if he is in my power, the way I am living off his life, eating the steak he does not eat, as if I am taking the food from his mouth. And he is black and I am white, and without meaning or trying to I must profit from his darkness, the way he absorbs the murderous beams of the nation's heart, as black cotton absorbs the heat of the sun and holds it. There is no way to know how easy this white skin makes my life, this life he could take so easily and break across his knee like a stick the way his own back is being broken, the rob of his soul that at birth was dark and fluid and rich as the heart of a seedling ready to thrust up into any available light.

Sex Without Love

How do they do it, the ones who make love without love? Beautiful as dancers, Gliding over each other like ice-skaters over the ice, fingers hooked inside each other's bodies, faces red as steak, wine, wet as the children at birth, whose mothers are going to give them away. How do they come to the come to the come to the God come to the still waters, and not love the one who came there with them, light rising slowly as steam off their joined skin? These are the true religious, the purists, the pros, the ones who will not accept a false Messiah, love the priest instead of the God. They do not mistake the lover for their own pleasure, they are like great runners: they know they are alone with the road surface, the cold, the wind, the fit of their shoes, their over-all cardio vascular health--just factors, like the partner in the bed, and not the truth, which is the single body alone in the universe against its own best time.

My Son the Man

Suddenly his shoulders get a lot wider, the way Houdini would expand his body while people were putting him in chains. It seems no time since I would help him put on his sleeper, guide his calves into the gold interior, zip him up and toss him up and catch his weight. I cannot imagine him no longer a child, and I know I must get ready, get over my fear of men now my son is going to be one. This was not what I had in mind when he pressed up through me like a sealed trunk through the ice of the Hudson, snapped the padlock, unsnaked the chains, and appeared in my arms. Now he looks at me the way Houdini studied a box to learn the way out, he smiled and let himself be manacled.

Rite of Passage

As the guests arrive at my son's party they gather in the living room-- short men, men in first grade with smooth jaws and chins. Hands in pockets, they stand around jostling, jockeying for place, small fights breaking out and calming. One says to another How old are you? Six. I'm seven. So? They eye each other, seeing themselves tiny in the other's pupils. They clear their throats a lot, a room of small bankers, they fold their arms and frown. I could beat you up, a seven says to a six, the dark cake, round and heavy as a turret, behind them on the table. My son, freckles like specks of nutmeg on his cheeks, chest narrow as the balsa keel of a model boat, long hands cool and thin as the day they guided him out of me, speaks up as a host for the sake of the group. We could easily kill a two-year-old, he says in his clear voice. The other men agree, they clear their throats like Generals, they relax and get down to playing war, celebrating my son's life.