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Sharon Olds


After we flew across the country we
got into bed, laid our bodies
delicately together, like maps laid
face to face, East to West, my
San Francisco against your New York, your
Fire Island against my Sonoma, my
New Orleans deep in your Texas, your Idaho
bright on my Great Lakes, my Kansas
burning against your Kansas your Kansas 
burning against my Kansas, your Eastern
Standard Time pressing into my 
Pacific Time, my Mountain Time 
beating against your Central Time, your
sun rising swiftly from the right my
sun rising swiftly from the left your
moon rising slowly from the left my 
moon rising slowly from the right until
all four bodies of the sky
burn above us, sealing us together,
all our cities twin cities,
all our states united, one
nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.   

What if God
And what if God had been watching when my mother
came into my bed? What would he have done when her
long adult body rolled on me like a 
tongue of lava from the top of the mountain and the
tears jumped from her ducts like hot rocks and my
bed shook with the tremors of the magma and the 
deep cracking of my nature across-
what was He?  Was He a bison to lower his
thundercloud head and suck His own sex while He
watched us weep and pray to Him or
was He a squirrel, reaching down through the
hole she broke in my shell, squirrel with His
arm in the yoke of my soul up to the elbow,
stirring, stirring the gold? Or was He a
kid in Biology, dissecting me while she 
held my split carapace apart so He could 
firk out my oblong eggs one by one, was He a
man entering me up to the hilt while she
pried my thighs wide in the starry dark-
she said that all we did was done in His sight so
what was He doing as He saw her weep in my
hair and slip my soul from between my
ribs like a tiny hotel soup, did He 
wash His hands of me as I washed my
hands of Him? Is there a God in the house? 
Is there a God in the house? Then reach down and
take that woman off that child's body,
take that woman by the nape of the neck like a young cat and
lift her up and deliver her over to me.

I wonder now only when it will happen,
when the young mother will hear the 
noise like somebody's pressure cooker 
down the block, going off.  She'll go out on the yard,
holding her small daughter in her arms,
and there, above the end of the street, in the 
air above the line of the tress,
she will see it rising, lifting up
over the horizon, the upper rim of the
gold ball, large as a giant
planet starting to lift up over ours.
She will stand there in the yard holding her daughter,
looking at it rise and grow and blossom and rise,
and the child will open her arms to it,
it will look so beautiful.

The Twin He is a large man, with thich hair and a thick moustache. He holds aside his cloak, he holds his vest open, his shirt open. His twin grows from his chest. Canted over backward towards us it hangs from him, its arms-jointed like chicken wings springing from its ribs and held with slings, its hands cocked, the head dangling. Its eyes are closed and never did open. Its mouth is open and never did close, and though along the jaws whiskers appeared, from the mouth there never came a sound. The luxuriant hair hangs down from the scalp, nearly touching its one leg, plump and white, that dangles on the man's thigh. At birth they were given one name, but when the man grew up, his sleeping twin suspended from him with that slight grin of ecstsy on its face, floating before him, its skin his skin, its genitals buried in his body, he had it baptized, naming the heart next to his heart. He has placed a lace collar around the throat swaying in the air, the half-body that at night curls like a cat in the curve of his body. He looks at us, his gaze direct and without expectation, heavy-lidded eyes full of weariness, he looks at us across his brother, the one he named John the Baptist, who goes before him into the wilderness.

The Food-Thief
They drive him along the road in the steady
conscious way they drove their cattle
when they had cattle, when they had homes and
living children.  They drive him with pliant 
peeled sticks, snapped from trees
whose bark cannot be eaten-snapped,
not cut, no one has a knife, and the trees that can be
eaten have been eaten leaf and trunk and the 
long roots pulled from the ground and eaten.  
They drive him and beat him, a loose circle of 
thin men with sapling sticks,
driving him along slowly, slowly
beating him to death.  He turns to them
with all the eloquence of the body, the
wrist turned out and the vein up his forearm
running like a root just under the surface, the
wounds on his head ripe and wet as a
rich furrow cut back and cut back at
plough-time to farrow a trench for the seed, his
eye pleading, the iris black and
gleaming as his skin, the white a dark
occluded white like cloud-cover on the 
morning of a day of heavy rain.
His lips are open to his brothers as the body of a 
woman might be open, as the earth itself was
split and folded back and wet and
seedy to them once, the lines on his lips 
fine as the thousand tributaries of a
root-hair, a river, he is asking them for life
with his whole body, and they are driving his body
all the way down the road because 
they know the life he is asking for-
it is their life. 

On the Subway
The boy and I faced each other.
His feet are huge, in black sneakers
laced with white in a complex pattern like a 
set of international 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 don't 
know if I am in his power-
he could take my coat so easily, my 
briefcase, my life-
or 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 
rod 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.

In the Cell
Sitting in the car at the end of summer, my
feet on the dashboard, the children in the back
laughing, my calf gleaming like a crescent moon,
I notice the hairs are sparser on my legs,
thinning our as I approach middle age-
not like some youth whose vigorous hairs
pulse out of his skin with power while he is
taking a man's genitals off as
slowly as possible, carefully, so as 
not to let him get away, to 
get all he knows out of him first-
names, locations, human maps of
human cities, in our common tongue and
written with our usual alphabet so he can 
rule those maps, change the names of the streets and
line the people along them to turn the
small cells of their faces up to him,
the sun on him like gilding.
This is what I cannot understand, the 
innocence of his own body, its
goodness and health, the hairs like sweet
molasses pouring from the follicles of his forearm and
cooling in great looping curls
above the sex of the man he is undoing as
he himself was made.

The Girl
I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges, 
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips black in the May air, 
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don't do it-she's the wrong woman,
he's the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do, 
you are going to do bad things to children, 
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to want to die.  I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don't do it.  I want to live.  I 
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips like chips of flint as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

Love in Bloodtime
When I saw my blood on your leg, the drop so
dark and clear, that real arterial red, 
could not even think about death, you
stood there smiling at me, 
you squatted in the tub on your long haunches
and washed it away.
The large hard bud of your glans in my mouth, 
the dark petals of my sex in your mouth, 
I could feel death going farther and farther away, 
forgetting me, losing my address, his 
palm forgetting the curve of my cheek in his hand.
Then we lay in the small glow of the 
lamp and I saw your lower lip
glazed with light like liquid fire
I looked at you and I tell you I knew you were God
and I was God and we lay in our bed
on the dark cloud, and somewhere all we did, the
blood, the pink stippling of the head, the
pearl fluid out of the slit, the 
goodness of all we did would somehow get
down there, it would find its flowering in the world.   

Outside the Operating Room of the Sex-Change Doctor
         Outside the operating room of the sex-change doctor, a tray
of penises.
        There is no blood.  This is not Vietnam, Chile, Buchenwald.
They were surgical removed under anesthetic.  They lie there
neatly, each with a small space around it.
			  The anesthetic is wearing off now.  The chopped-off sexes lie
on the silver tray.
        One says I am a weapon thrown down.  Let there be no more 
        Another says I am a thumb lost in the threshing machine.
Bright straw fills the air.  I will never have to work again.
        The third says I am a caul removed from his eyes.  Now he 
can see.
        The fourth says I want to painted by Gericault, a still life 
with a bust of Apollo, a drape of purple velvet, and a vine of ivy 
        The fifth says I was a dirty little dog, I knew he'd have me
put to sleep.
        The sixth says I am safe.  Now no one can hurt me.
        Only one is unhappy.  He lies there weeping in terrible grief, 
crying out Father, Father! 

Summer Solstice, New York City
By the end of the longest day of the year he could not stand it, 
he went up the iron stairs through the roof of the building
and over the soft, tarry surface
to the edge, put one leg over the complex green tin cornice
and said if they came a step closer that was it.
Then the huge machinery of the earth began to work for his life,
the cops came in their suits blue-grey as the sky on a cloudy evening, 
and one put on a bullet-proof vest, a
black shell around his own life, 
life of his children's father, in case
the man was armed, and one, slung with a
rope like the sign of his bounden duty, 
came up out of a hole in the top of the neighboring building
like the gold hole they say is in the top of the head, 
and began to lurk toward the man who wanted to die.
The tallest cop approached him directly, 
softly, slowly, talking to him, talking, talking,
while the man's leg hung over the lip of the next world
and the crowd gathered in the street, silent, and the 
hairy net with its implacable grid was
unfolded near the curb and spread out and
stretched as the sheet is prepared to receive at a birth.
Then they all came a little closer
where he squatted nest to his death, his shirt
glowing its milky glow like something
growing in a dish at night in the dark in a lab and then
everything stopped
as his body jerked and he
stepped down from the parapet and went toward them
and they closed on him, I thought they were going to
beat him up, as a mother whose child has been
lost will scream at the child when it's found, they 
took him by the arms and held him up and 
leaned him against the wall of the chimney and the
tall cop lit a cigarette
in his own mouth, and gave it to him, and
then they all lit cigarettes, and the
red, glowing ends burned like the
tiny campfires we lit at night 
back at the beginning of the world.   

The Abandoned Newborn
 When they found you, you were not breathing.
It was ten degrees below freezing, and you were
wrapped only in plastic.  They lifted you 
up out of the litter basket, as one
lifts a baby out of the crib after nap
and they unswaddled you from the Sloan's shopping bag.
As far sa you were concerned it was all over,
you were feeling nothing, everything had stopped
some time ago,
and they bent over you and forced the short
knife-blade of breath back
down into your chest, over and 
over, until you began to feel 
the pain of life again.  They took you
from silence and darkness right back
through birth, the gasping, the bright lights, they
achieved their miracle: on the second
day of the new year they brought you 
back to being a boy whose parents
left him in a garbage can,
and everyone in the Emergency Room
wept to see your very small body
moving again.  I saw you on the news,
the discs of the electrocardiogram
blazing like medals on your body, your hair
thick and ruffed as the head of a weed, your
large intelligent forehead dully
glowing in the hospital TV light, your
mouth pushed out as if you are angry, and
something on your upper lip, a 
dried glaze from your nose,
and I thought how you are the most American baby,
child of all of us through your very
American parents, and through the two young medics,
Lee Merklin and Frank Jennings,
who brought you around and gave you their names,
forced you to resume the hard
American task you had laid down so young,
and though I see the broken glass on your path, the
shit, the statistics-you will be a man who 
wraps his child in plastic and leaves it in the trash-I
see the light too as you saw it
forced a second time in silver ice between your lids, I am
full of joy to see your new face among us,
Lee Frank Merklin Jennings I am
standing here in dumb American praise for your life.

The Girl
They chased her and her friend through the woods
and caught them in a small clearing, broken
random bracken, a couple of old mattresses, 
the dry ochre of foam rubber, 
as if the place had been prepared.
The thin one with black hair
started raping her best friend, 
and the blond one stood above her, 
thrust his thumbs back inside her jaws, she was 12, 
stuch his penis in her mouth and throat 
faster and faster and faster.
Then the black-haired one stood up--
they lay like pulled-up roots at his feet, 
two naked 12-year-old girls, he said
Now you're going to know what it's like
to be shot 5 times and slaughtered like a pig, 
and they switched mattresses, 
the blond was rapping and stabbing her best friend, 
and the black-haired one sticking inside her
in one place and then another, 
the point of his gun pressed deep into her waist, 
she felt a little click in her spine and a 
sting like 7-Up in her head and then he
pulled the tree-branch across her throat
and everything went dark, 
the gym went dark, and her mother's kitchen, 
even the globes of light on the rounded 
lips of her mother's nesting bowls went dark.

When she woke up she was lying on the cold
iron-smelling earth, she was under the mattress, 
pulled up over her like a
blanket at night, 
she saw the body of her best friend
and she began to run, 
she came to the edge of the woods and she stepped
out from the trees, like a wound debriding, 
she walked across the fields to the tracks
and said to the railway brakeman Please, sir.  Please, sir.  

At the trial she had to say everything-
her big sister taught her the words-
she had to sit in the room with them and 
point to them.  Now she goes to parties
but does not smoke, she is a cheerleader, 
she throws her body up in air
and kicks her legs and comes home an does the dishes
and her homework, she has to work hard in math, 
the night over the roof of her bed
filled with white planets.  Every night she
prays for the soul of her best friend and
then thanks God for life.  She knows
what all of us want never to know
and she does a cartwheel, the splits, she shakes the
shredded pom-poms in her fists. 

The Meal
Mama, I never stop seeing you there
at the breakfast table when I'd come home from school-
sitting with your excellent skeletal posture
facing that plate with the one scoop of cottage cheese on it,
forcing yourself to eat, though you did not want to live,
feeding yourself, small spoonful by
small spoonful, so you would not die and 
leave us without a mother. You'd sit
in front of that mound rounded as a breast and
giving off a cold moony light,
light of the life you did not want, you would 
hold yourself there and stare down at it,
an orphan forty years old staring at the breast,
a freshly divorced woman down to 82 pounds
staring at the cock runny with milk gone sour,
a daughter who had always said
the best thing her mother ever did for her 
was to die. I came home every day to
find you there, dry-eyed, unbent, that
hot control in the breakfast nook, your 
delicate savage bones over the cheese
curdled like the breast of the mother twenty years in the
porous earth,
                     and yet what I remember is your
spoon moving like the cock moving in the
body of the girl waking to the power of her pleasure,
your spoon rising in courage, bite after bite, you
tilted rigid over that plate until you
polished it for my life.

The Pope's Penis
It hangs deep in his robes, a delicate
clapper at the center of a bell.
It moves when he moves, a ghostly fish in a
halo of silver seaweed, the hair
swaying in the dark and the heat-and at night, 
while his eyes sleep, it stands up
in praise of God.

The Solution
         Finally they got the Singles problem under 
control, they made it scientific.  They opened huge 
Sex Centers-you could simply go and state what you 
want and they would find you someone who wanted that 
too.  You would stand under a sign saying I Like to 
Be Touched and Held  and when someone came and 
stood under the sign saying I Like to Touch and 
Hold  they would send the two of you off 
          At first it went great.  A steady stream of 
people under the sign I Like to Give Pain 
paired up with a steady stream of people from under 
I Like to Receive Pain.  Foreplay Only-No 
Orgasm found its adherents, and Orgasm Only-No 
Foreplay matched up its believers.  A loyal 
Berkeley, California, policeman stood under the sign 
Married Adults, Lights Out, Face to Face, Under a 
Sheet, because that's the only way it was legal in 
Berkeley-but he stood there a long time in his lonely 
blue law coat.  And the man under I Like to Be Sung 
to White Bread Is Kneaded on My Stomach had been 
there weeks without a reply.
         Things began to get strange.  The Love 
Only-No Sex was doing fine; the Sex Only-No 
Love was doing well, pair after pair walking out 
together like wooden animals off a child's ark, but 
the line for 38D or Bigger was getting unruly, 
shouting insults at the line for 8 Inches or 
Longer, and odd isolated signs were springing up 
everywhere, Retired Schoolteacher and Parakeet-No 
Leather; One Rm/No Bath/View of Sausage Factory.  
         The din rose in the vast room.  The line 
under I Want to Be Fucked Senseless was so long 
that portable toilets had to be added and a minister 
brought for deaths, births, and marriages on the 
line.  Over under I Want to Fuck Senseless-no 
one, a pile of guns.  A hollow roaring filled the 
enormous gym.  More and more people began to move over 
to Want to Be Fucked Senseless. The line snaked 
around the gym, the stadium, the whole town, out into 
the fields.  More and more people joined it, until 
Fucked Senseless stretched across the nation in 
a huge wide belt like the Milky Way, and since they 
had to name it they named it,  they called it the 
American Way.    

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