17+ Best Sharon Olds Poems You’ve Been Meaning To Read

Sharon Olds is an American poet. Olds has been the recipient of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award, and the first San Francisco Poetry Center Award in 1980.

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Famous Sharon Olds Poems

The End

We decided to have the abortion, became
killers together. The period that came
changed nothing. They were dead, that young couple
who had been for life.
As we talked of it in bed, the crash
was not a surprise. We went to the window,
looked at the crushed cars and the gleaming
curved shears of glass as if we had
done it. Cops pulled the bodies out
Bloody as births from the small, smoking
aperture of the door, laid them
on the hill, covered them with blankets that soaked
through. Blood
began to pour
down my legs into my slippers. I stood
where I was until they shot the bound
form into the black hole
of the ambulance and stood the other one
up, a bandage covering its head,
stained where the eyes had been.
The next morning I had to kneel
an hour on that floor, to clean up my blood,
rubbing with wet cloths at those glittering
translucent spots, as one has to soak
a long time to deglaze the pan
when the feast is over.

Anonymous submission.

The Sash

The first ones were attached to my dress
at the waist, one on either side,
right at the point where hands could clasp you and
pick you up, as if you were a hot
squeeze bottle of tree syrup, and the
sashes that emerged like axil buds from the
angles of the waist were used to play horses, that
racing across the cement while someone
held your reins and you could feel your flesh
itself in your body wildly streaming.
You would come home, a torn-off sash
dangling from either hand, a snake-charmer—
each time, she sewed them back on with
thicker thread, until the seams of
sash and dress bulged like little
knots of gristle at your waist as you walked, you could
feel them like thumbs pressing into your body.
The next sash was the one Thee, Hannah!
borrowed from her be-ribboned friend
and hid in a drawer and got salve on it,
salve on a sash, like bacon grease on a snake,
God’s lard on the ribbon a Quaker girl
should not want, Satan’s jism on
silk delicate as the skin of a young girl’s genital.
When Hannah gave up satin her father
told her she was beautiful
just as God made her. But all sashes
lead to the sash, very sash of
very sash, begotten, not made, that my
aunt sent from Switzerland—
cobalt ripple of Swiss cotton with
clean boys and girls dancing on it.
I don’t know why my mother chose it to
tie me to the chair with, her eye just
fell on it, but the whole day I
felt those blue children dance
around my wrists. Later someone
told me they had found out
the universe is a kind of strip that
twists around and joins itself, and I believe it,
sometimes I can feel it, the way we are
pouring slowly toward a curve and around it
through something dark and soft, and we are bound to
each other.

Topography

After we flew across the country we
got in 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 form the left my
moon rising slowly form 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.

The Pact

We played dolls in that house where Father staggered with the
Thanksgiving knife, where Mother wept at noon into her one ounce of
cottage cheese, praying for the strength not to
kill herself. We kneeled over the
rubber bodies, gave them baths
carefully, scrubbed their little
orange hands, wrapped them up tight,
said goodnight, never spoke of the
woman like a gaping wound
weeping on the stairs, the man like a stuck
buffalo, baffled, stunned, dragging
arrows in his side. As if we had made a
pact of silence and safety, we kneeled and
dressed those tiny torsos with their elegant
belly-buttons and minuscule holes
high on the buttock to pee through and all that
darkness in their open mouths, so that I
have not been able to forgive you for giving your
daughter away, letting her go at
eight as if you took Molly Ann or
Tiny Tears and held her head
under the water in the bathinette
until no bubbles rose, or threw her
dark rosy body on the fire that
burned in that house where you and I
barely survived, sister, where we
swore to be protectors.

Still Life In Landscape

It was night, it had rained, there were pieces of cars and
half-cars strewn, it was still, and bright,
a woman was lying on the highway, on her back,
with her head curled back and tucked under her shoulders
so the back of her head touched her spine
between her shoulder-blades, her clothes
mostly accidented off, and her
leg gone, a long bone
sticking out of the stub of her thigh—
this was her her abandoned matter,
my mother grabbed my head and turned it and
clamped it into her chest, between
her breasts. My father was driving—not sober
but not in this accident, we’d approached it out of
neutral twilight, broken glass
on wet black macadam, like an underlying
midnight abristle with stars. This was
the world—maybe the only one.
The dead woman was not the person
my father had recently almost run over,
who had suddenly leapt away from our family
car, jerking back from death,
she was not I, she was not my mother,
but maybe she was a model of the mortal,
the elements ranged around her on the tar—
glass, bone, metal, flesh, and the family.

Voices

Our voices race to the towers, and up beyond
the atmosphere, to the satellite,
slowly turning, then back down
to another tower, and cell. Quincy,
Toi, Honoree, Sarah, Dorianne,
Galway. When Athena Elizalex calls,
I tell her I’m missing Lucille’s dresses,
and her shoes, and Elizabeth says ‘And she would say,
‘Damn! I do look good!” After we
hang up, her phone calls me again
from inside her jacket, in the grocery store
with her elder son, eleven, I cannot
hear the words, just part of the matter
of the dialogue, it’s about sugar, I am
in her pocket like a spirit. Then I dream it —
looking at an illuminated city
from a hill, at night, and suddenly
the lights go out — like all the stars
gone out. ‘Well, if there is great sex
in heaven,’ we used to say, ‘or even just
sex, or one kiss, what’s wrong
with that?!’ Then I’m dreaming a map of the globe, with
bright pinpoints all over it —
in the States, the Caribbean, Latin America,
in Europe, and in Africa —
everywhere a poem of hers is being
read. Small comfort. Not small
to the girl who curled against the wall around the core
of her soul, keeping it alive, with long
labor, then unfolded into the hard truths, the
lucid beauty, of her song.

The Wedding Vow

I did not stand at the altar, I stood
at the foot of the chancel steps, with my beloved,
and the minister stood on the top step
holding the open Bible. The church
was wood, painted ivory inside, no people—God’s
stable perfectly cleaned. It was night,
spring—outside, a moat of mud,
and inside, from the rafters, flies
fell onto the open Bible, and the minister
tilted it and brushed them off. We stood
beside each other, crying slightly
with fear and awe. In truth, we had married
that first night, in bed, we had been
married by our bodies, but now we stood
in history—what our bodies had said,
mouth to mouth, we now said publicly,
gathered together, death. We stood
holding each other by the hand, yet I also
stood as if alone, for a moment,
just before the vow, though taken
years before, took. It was a vow
of the present and the future, and yet I felt it
to have some touch on the distant past
or the distant past on it, I felt
the silent, dry, crying ghost of my
parents’ marriage there, somewhere
in the bright space—perhaps one of the
plummeting flies, bouncing slightly
as it hit forsaking all others, then was brushed
away. I felt as if I had come
to claim a promise—the sweetness I’d inferred
from their sourness; and at the same time that I had
come, congenitally unworthy, to beg.
And yet, I had been working toward this hour
all my life. And then it was time
to speak—he was offering me, no matter
what, his life. That is all I had to
do, that evening, to accept the gift
I had longed for—to say I had accepted it,
as if being asked if I breathe. Do I take?
I do. I take as he takes—we have been
practicing this. Do you bear this pleasure? I do.

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 to 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, then smiled and let himself be manacled.

True Love

In the middle of the night, when we get up
after making love, we look at each other in
complete friendship, we know so fully
what the other has been doing. Bound to each other
like mountaineers coming down from a mountain,
bound with the tie of the delivery-room,
we wander down the hall to the bathroom, I can
hardly walk, I hobble through the granular
shadowless air, I know where you are
with my eyes closed, we are bound to each other
with huge invisible threads, our sexes
muted, exhausted, crushed, the whole
body a sex—surely this
is the most blessed time of my life,
our children asleep in their beds, each fate
like a vein of abiding mineral
not discovered yet. I sit
on the toilet in the night, you are somewhere in the room,
I open the window and snow has fallen in a
steep drift, against the pane, I
look up, into it,
a wall of cold crystals, silent
and glistening, I quietly call to you
and you come and hold my hand and I say
I cannot see beyond it. I cannot see beyond it.

The Death of Marilyn Monroe

The ambulance men touched her cold
body, lifted it, heavy as iron,
onto the stretcher, tried to close the
mouth, closed the eyes, tied the
arms to the sides, moved a caught
strand of hair, as if it mattered,
saw the shape of her breasts, flattened by
gravity, under the sheet
carried her, as if it were she,
down the steps.

These men were never the same. They went out
afterwards, as they always did,
for a drink or two, but they could not meet
each other’s eyes.

Their lives took
a turn-one had nightmares, strange
pains, impotence, depression. One did not
like his work, his wife looked
different, his kids. Even death
seemed different to him-a place where she
would be waiting,

and one found himself standing at night
in the doorway to a room of sleep, listening to a
woman breathing, just an ordinary
woman
breathing.

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.

Toth Farry

In the back of the charm-box, in a sack, the baby
canines and incisors are mostly chaff,
by now, split kernels and acicular down, no
whole utensils left: half
an adz; half a shovel, in its broken
handle a marrow well of the will
to dig and bite. And the enamel hems
are sharp as shell-tools, and the colors go from
salt, to bone, to pee on snow, to
sun on pond-ice embedded with twigs
and chipped-off skate-blade. One cuspid
is like the tail of an ivory chough
on my grandmother’s what-not in a gravure on my mother’s
bureau in my father’s house in my head,
I think it’s our daughter’s, but the dime Hermes
mingled the deciduals of our girl and boy, safe-
keeping them together with the note that says
Dear Toth Farry, Plees Giv Me
A Bag of Moany. I pore over the shards,
a skeleton-lover—but who could throw out
these short pints of osseus breastmilk,
or the wisdom, with its charnel underside,
and its dome, smooth and experienced,
ground in anger, rinsed in silver
when the mouth waters. From above, its knurls
are a cusp-ring of mountain tops
around an amber crevasse, where in high
summer the summit wildflowers open
for a day—Crown Buttercup, Alpine Flames,
Shooting-Star, Rosy Fairy Lantern,
Cream Sacs, Sugar Scoop.

Her First Week

She was so small I would scan the crib a half-second
to find her, face-down in a corner, limp
as something gently flung down, or fallen
from some sky an inch above the mattress. I would
tuck her arm along her side
and slowly turn her over. She would tumble
over part by part, like a load
of damp laundry, in the dryer, Id slip
a hand in, under her neck,
slide the other under her back,
and evenly lift her up. Her little bottom
sat in my palm, her chest contained
the puckered, moire sacs, and her neck –
I was afraid of her neck, once I almost
thought I heard it quietly snap,
I looked at her and she swivelled her slate
eyes and looked at me. It was in
my care, the creature of her spine, like the first
chordate, as if the history
of the vertebrate had been placed in my hands.
Every time I checked, she was still
with us – someday, there would be a human
race. I could not see it in her eyes,
but when I fed her, gathered her
like a loose bouquet to my side and offered
the breast, greyish-white, and struck with
minuscule scars like creeks in sunlight, I
felt she was serious, I believed she was willing to stay.

Unspeakable

Now I come to look at love
in a new way, now that I know I’m not
standing in its light. I want to ask my
almost-no-longer husband what it’s like to not
love, but he does not want to talk about it,
he wants a stillness at the end of it.
And sometimes I feel as if, already,
I am not here-to stand in his thirty-year
sight, and not in love’s sight,
I feel an invisibility
like a neutron in a cloud chamber buried in a mile-long
accelerator, where what cannot
be seen is inferred by what the visible
does. After the alarm goes off,
I stroke him, my hand feels like a singer
who sings along him, as if it is
his flesh that’s singing, in its full range,
tenor of the higher vertebrae,
baritone, bass, contrabass.
I want to say to him, now, What
was it like, to love me-when you looked at me,
what did you see? When he loved me, I looked
out at the world as if from inside
a profound dwelling, like a burrow, or a well, I’d gaze
up, at noon, and see Orion
shining-when I thought he loved me, when I thought
we were joined not just for breath’s time,
but for the long continuance,
the hard candies of femur and stone,
the fastnesses. He shows no anger,
I show no anger but in flashes of humor,
all is courtesy and horror. And after
the first minute, when I say, Is this about
her, and he says, No, it’s about
you, we do not speak of her.

The Month of June: 13 1/2

As our daughter approaches graduation and
puberty at the same time, at her
own, calm, deliberate, serious rate,
she begins to kick up her heels, jazz out her
hands, thrust out her hipbones, chant
I’m great! I’m great! She feels 8th grade coming
open around her, a chrysalis cracking and
letting her out, it falls behind her and
joins the other husks on the ground,
7th grade, 6th grade, the
magenta rind of 5th grade, the
hard jacket of 4th when she had so much pain,
3rd grade, 2nd, the dim cocoon of
1st grade back there somewhere on the path, and
kindergarten like a strip of thumb-suck blanket
taken from the actual blanket they wrapped her in at birth.
The whole school is coming off her shoulders like a
cloak unclasped, and she dances forth in her
jerky sexy child’s joke dance of
self, self, her throat tight and a
hard new song coming out of it, while her
two dark eyes shine
above her body like a good mother and a
good father who look down and
love everything their baby does, the way she
lives their love.

The Flurry

When we talk about when to tell the kids,
we are so together, so concentrated.
I mutter, ‘I feel like a killer.’ ‘I’m
the killer’—taking my wrist-he says,
holding it. He is sitting on the couch,
the worn indigo chintz around him,
rich as a night tide, with jellies,
I am sitting on the floor. I look up at him
as if within some chamber of matedness
some dust I carry around me. Tonight,
to breathe its Magellanic field is less
painful, maybe because he is drinking
a wine grown where I was born—fog,
eucalyptus, sempervirens—and I’m
sharing the glass with him. ‘Don’t catch
my cold,’ he says,’—oh, that’s right, you want
to catch my cold.’ I should not have told him that,
I tell him I will try to fall out of
love with him, but I feel I will love him
all my life. He says he loves me
as the mother of our children, and new troupes
of tears mount to the acrobat platforms
of my ducts and do their burning leaps,
some of them jump straight sideways, and for a
moment, I imagine a flurry
of tears like a wirra of knives thrown
at a figure to outline it—a heart’s spurt
of rage. It glitters, in my vision, I nod
to it, it is my hope.

The Knowing

Afterwards, when we have slept, paradise-
comaed and woken, we lie a long time
looking at each other.

I do not know what he sees, but I see
eyes of surpassing tenderness
and calm, a calm like the dignity
of matter. I love the open ocean
blue-grey-green of his iris, I love
the curve of it against the white,
that curve the sight of what has caused me
to come, when he’s quite still, deep
inside me. I have never seen a curve
like that, except the earth from outer
space. I don’t know where he got
his kindness without self-regard,
almost without self, and yet
he chose one woman, instead of the others.

By knowing him, I get to know
the purity of the animal
which mates for life. Sometimes he is slightly
smiling, but mostly he just gazes at me gazing,
his entire face lit. I love
to see it change if I cry-there is no worry,
no pity, no graver radiance. If we
are on our backs, side by side,
with our faces turned fully to face each other,
I can hear a tear from my lower eye
hit the sheet, as if it is an early day on earth,
and then the upper eye’s tears
braid and sluice down through the lower eyebrow
like the invention of farmimg, irrigation, a non-nomadic people.

I am so lucky that I can know him.
This is the only way to know him.
I am the only one who knows him.

When I wake again, he is still looking at me,
as if he is eternal. For an hour
we wake and doze, and slowly I know
that though we are sated, though we are hardly
touching, this is the coming the other
coming brought us to the edge of-we are entering,
deeper and deeper, gaze by gaze,
this place beyond the other places,
beyond the body itself, we are making
love

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