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Authors: Sharon Olds

Stag's Leap

BOOK: Stag's Leap
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THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK
PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF

Copyright © 2012 by Sharon Olds

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada, Limited, Toronto.

www.aaknopf.com

Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Cover image: The Stags' Leap design is a registered trademark of Treasury Wine Estates. Used with permission.

Cover design by Chip Kidd

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Olds, Sharon.
Stag's leap / by Sharon Olds.—1st ed.
p.  cm.
Poems.
eISBN: 978-0-307-95991-1
I. Title.
PS
3565.
L
34
S
73 2012
811.54—dc23                   2012004426

v3.1

Acknowledgments

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the editors of the following publications, where some of the poems in this book first appeared.

Poetry:
“The Flurry”

The New Yorker:
“Stag's Leap,” “Silence, with Two Texts,” “On Reading a Newspaper for the First Time as an Adult”

Poetry London:
“Bruise Ghazal,” “Sleekit Cowrin' ”

Southern Review:
“Slowly He Starts,” “The Healers”

TriQuarterly:
“To Our Miscarried One, Age Thirty Now,” “Sea-Level Elegy”

Slate:
“Pain I Did Not”

Green Mountain Review:
“Something That Keeps”

The Atlantic Monthly:
“September 2001, New York City”

The American Poetry Review:
“While He Told Me,” “Last Look,” “Material Ode,” “Years Later,” “What Left?,” “The Worst Thing”

Five Points:
“Unspeakable”

Tracking the Storm:
“Object Loss”

Brick:
“I'd Ask Him for It”

Gulf Coast:
“Left-Wife Goose”

Threepenny Review:
“Discandied”

Ploughshares:
“Poem for the Breasts”

Ontario Review:
“Known to Be Left”

Tin House:
“On the Hearth of the Broken Home”

This book's title, with its singular stag, is a play on the name of the winery Stags' Leap. The author is grateful to the makers of Stags' Leap for generously sharing the image from their label, and for their wines.

January–December

    While He Told Me

While he told me, I looked from small thing

to small thing, in our room, the face

of the bedside clock, the sepia postcard

of a woman bending down to a lily.

Later, when we took off our clothes, I saw

his deep navel, and the cindery lichen

skin between the male breasts, and from

outside the shower curtain's terrible membrane

I called out something like flirting to him,

and he smiled. Before I turned out the light,

he touched my face, then turned away,

then the dark. Then every scene I thought of

I visited accompanied by a death-spirit,

everything was chilled with it,

each time I woke, I lay in dreading

bliss to feel and hear him sigh

and snore. Near sunrise, behind overcast, he got

up to go in and read on the couch,

as he often did,

and in a while I followed him,

as I often had,

and snoozed on him, while he read, and he laid

an arm across my back. When I opened

my eyes, I saw two tulips stretched

away from each other extreme in the old

vase with the grotto carved out of a hill

and a person in it, underground,

praying, my imagined shepherd in make-believe paradise.

    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 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.

    Material Ode

O tulle, O taffeta, O grosgrain—

I call upon you now, girls,

of fabrics and the woman I sing. My husband

had said he was probably going to leave me—not

for sure, but likely, maybe—and no, it did not

have to do with her. O satin, O

sateen, O velvet, O fucking velveeta—

the day of the doctors' dress-up dance,

the annual folderol, the lace,

the net, he said it would be hard for her

to see me there, dancing with him,

would I mind not going. And since I'd been

for thirty years enarming him,

I enarmed him further—
Arma,
Virumque,

sackcloth, ashen embroidery! As he

put on his tux, I saw his slight

smirk into the mirror, as he did his bow tie,

but after more than three decades, you have some

affection for each other's little faults,

and it suited me to cherish the belief

no meanness could happen between us. Fifty-

fifty we had made the marriage,

fifty-fifty its demise. And when he came

home and shed his skin, Reader,

I slept with him, thinking it meant

he was back, his body was speaking for him,

and as it spoke, its familiar sang

from the floor, the old-boy tie. O silk,

O slub, O cocoon stolen. It is something

our species does, isn't it,

we take what we can. Or else there'd be grubs

who kept people, in rooms, to produce

placentas for the larvae's use, there would be

a cow who would draw from our wombs our unborn

offspring, to make of them shoes for a calf.

O bunny-pajamas of children! Love

where loved. O babies' flannel sleeper

with a slice of cherry pie on it.

Love only where loved! O newborn suit

with a smiling worm over the heart, it is

forbidden to love where we are not loved.

    Gramercy

The last time we slept together—

and then I can't remember when

it was, I used to be a clock

of sleeping together, and now it drifts,

in me, somewhere, the knowledge, in one of those

washes on maps of deserts, those spacious

wastes—the last time, he paused,

at some rest stop, some interval

between the unrollings, he put his palm

on my back, between the shoulder blades.

It was as if he were suing for peace,

asking if this could be over—maybe not

just this time, but over. He was solid

within me, suing for peace. And I

subsided, but then my bright tail

lolloped again, and I whispered, Just one

more?, and his indulgent grunt

seemed, to me, to have pleasure, and even

affection, in it—and my life, as it

was incorporated in flesh, was burst with the

sweet smashes again. And then

we lay and looked at each other—or I looked

at him, into his eyes. Maybe that

was the last time—not knowing

it was last, not solemn, yet that signal given,

that hand laid down on my back, not a gauntlet

but a formal petition for reprieve, a sign for Grant Mercy.

BOOK: Stag's Leap
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