Unswept Roomby Sharon Olds
From poems that erupt out of history and childhood to those that embody the nurturing of a new generation of children and the transformative power of marital love, Sharon Olds
From Sharon Olds—a stunning new collection of poems that project a fresh spirit, a startling energy of language and counterpoint, and a moving, elegiac tone shot through with humor.
From poems that erupt out of history and childhood to those that embody the nurturing of a new generation of children and the transformative power of marital love, Sharon Olds takes risks, writing boldly of physical, emotional, and spiritual sensations that are seldom the stuff of poetry.
These are poems that strike for the heart, as Sharon Olds captures our imagination with unexpected wordplay, sprung rhythms, and the disquieting revelations of ordinary life. Writing at the peak of her powers, this greatly admired poet gives us her finest collection.
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Then, when we were joined, I became shyer. I became completed, joyful,
and shyer. I may have shone more, reflected more, and from deep inside there rose some glow passing steadily through me, but I was not playing, now, I felt a little like someone small, in a raftered church, or in a cathedral, the vaulted spaces of the body like a sacred woods. I was quiet when my throat was not making those iron, orbital, rusted,
coming noises at the hinge of matter and whatever is not matter. He takes me into ending after ending like another world at the center of this one, and then, if he begins to end when I am resting I feel awe, I almost feel fear, sometimes for a moment I feel
I should not move, or make a sound, as if he is alone, now,
howling in the wilderness,
and yet I know we are in this place together. I thought, now is the moment
I could become more loving, and my hands moved shyly over him, secret as heaven,
and my mouth spoke, and in my beloved’s voice, by the bones of my head, the fields groaned, and then I joined him again,
not shy, not bold, released, entering the true home, where the trees bend down along the ground and yet stand, then we lay together panting, as if saved from some disaster, and for ceaseless instants, it came to pass what I have heard about, it came to me that I did not know I was separate from this man, I did not know I was lonely.
Bible Study: 71 b.c.e.
After Marcus Licinius Crassus defeated the army of Spartacus,
he crucified 6,000 men.
That is what the records say,
as if he drove in the 18,000
nails himself. I wonder how he felt, that day, if he went outside among them, if he walked that human woods. I think he stayed in his tent and drank, and maybe copulated,
hearing the singing being done for him,
the woodwind-tuning he was doing at one remove, to the six-thousandth power.
And maybe he looked out, sometimes,
to see the rows of instruments,
his orchard, the earth bristling with it as if a patch in his brain had itched and this was his way of scratching it directly. Maybe it gave him pleasure,
and a sense of balance, as if he had suffered,
and now had found redress for it,
and voice for it. I speak as a monster,
someone who this hour has thought at length about Crassus, his ecstasy of feeling nothing while so much is being felt, his hot lightness of spirit in being free to walk around while others are nailed above the earth.
It may have been the happiest day of his life. If he had suddenly cut his hand on a wineglass, I doubt he would have woken up to what he was doing.
It is frightening to think of him suddenly seeing what he was, to think of him running outside, to try to take them down,
one man to save 6,000.
If he could have lowered one,
and seen the eyes when the level of pain dropped like a sudden soaring into pleasure,
wouldn't that have opened in him the wild terror of understanding the other? But then he would have had
to go. Probably it almost never happens, that a Marcus Crassus wakes. I think he dozed, and was roused to his living dream, lifted the flap and slowly looked out, at the rustling, creaking living field-his, like an external organ, a heart.
When the family would go to a restaurant,
my father would put his hand up a waitress's skirt if he could-hand, wrist,
forearm. Suddenly, you couldn't see his elbow, just the upper arm.
His teeth were wet, the whites of his eyes wet, a man with a stump of an arm,
as if he had reached behind the night.
It was always the right arm, he wasn't fooling. Places we had been before,
no one would serve us, unless there was a young unwarned woman, and I never warned her.
Wooop! he would go, as if we were having fun together. Sometimes, now,
I remember it as if he had had his arm in up to his shoulder, his arm to its pit in the mother, he laughed with teary eyes, as if he was weeping with relief.
His other arm would be lying on the table-
he liked to keep it motionless, to improve the joke, ventriloquist with his arm up the dummy, his own shriek coming out of her mouth. I wish I had stuck a fork in that arm, driven the tines deep, heard the squeak of muscle,
felt the skid on bone. I may have met, since then, someone related to one of the women at the True Blue or at the Hick'ry Pit. Sometimes
I imagine my way back into the skirts of the women my father hurt, those bells of twilight, those sacred tented woods.
I want to sweep, tidy, stack-
whatever I can do, clean the stable of my father's mind. Maybe undirty my own, come to see the whole body as blameless and lovely. I want to work off my father's and my sins, stand beneath the night sky with the full moon glowing, knowing I am under the dome of a woman who forgives me.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
Sharon Olds was born in 1942 in San Francisco and educated at Stanford University and Columbia University. Her previous books are Satan Says, The Dead and the Living, The Gold Cell, The Wellspring, The Father, and Blood, Tin, Straw. She was the New York State Poet Laureate from 1998 to 2000. She teaches poetry workshops in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at New York University and was one of the founders of the NYU workshop program at Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island in New York. Her work has received the Harriet Monroe Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Lamont Selection of the Academy of American Poets, and the San Francisco Poetry Center Award. She lives in New York City.
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This is not poetry! It is the rantings of a woman obsessed with herself and her anguish. I don't care. Her verse is sexuallly explicit and offensive, in particular the poem titled 'Sunday Night' in which she recounts the improper, what could even be considered criminal behavior of her father towards the waitresses at the restaurants her family would frequent. What is worse, when this poem was written and published, her father was deceased, and unable to answer to these statements. I wonder if these behaviors actually took place, and, if not, why would the poet sully the name of her dead father? Also, what impact did this poem have on her mother? Perhaps Ms. Olds can write a poem to address these issues. I cannot recommend this dreadful 'poetry' to anyone. Sincerely, Catherine Ross
Melodic truth, sweet, simple, "garden-variety epiphanies", delicate, translucent memories...Honest. I love it.