If the ropes binding your soul are your own wrists, I will cut them: five poems by Sharon Olds

Crazy

I’ve said that he and I had been crazy
for each other, but maybe my ex and I were not
crazy for each other. Maybe we
were sane for each other, as if our desire
was almost not even personal—
it was personal, but that hardly mattered, since there
seemed to be no other woman
or man in the world. Maybe it was
an arranged marriage, air and water and
earth had planned us for each other—and fire,
a fire of pleasure like a violence
of kindness. To enter those vaults together, like a
solemn or laughing couple in formal
step or writhing hair and cry, seemed to
me like the earth’s and moon’s paths,
inevitable, and even, in a way,
shy—enclosed in a shyness together,
equal in it. But maybe I
was crazy about him—it is true that I saw
that light around his head when I’d arrive second
at a restaurant—oh for God’s sake,
I was besotted with him. Meanwhile the planets
orbited each other, the morning and the evening
came. And maybe what he had for me
was unconditional, temporary
affection and trust, without romance,
though with fondness—with mortal fondness. There was no
tragedy, for us, there was
the slow-revealed comedy
of ideal and error. What precision of action
it had taken, for the bodies to hurtle through
the sky for so long without harming each other.


The Planned Child

I hated the fact that they had planned me, she had taken
a cardboard out of his shirt from the laundry
as if sliding the backbone up out of his body,
and made a chart of the month and put
her temperature on it, rising and falling,
to know the day to make me – I would have
liked to have been conceived in heat,
in haste, by mistake, in love, in sex,
not on cardboard, the little x on the
rising line that did not fall again.

But when a friend was pouring wine
and said that I seem to have been a child who had been wanted,
I took the wine against my lips
as if my mouth were moving along
that valved wall in my mother’s body, she was
bearing down, and then breathing from the mask, and then
bearing down, pressing me out into
the world that was not enough for her without me in it,
not the moon, the sun, Orion
cartwheeling across the dark, not
the earth, the sea – none of it
was enough, for her, without me.


Known to be Left

If I pass a mirror, I turn away,
I do not want to look at her,
and she does not want to be seen. Sometimes
I don’t see how I’m going to go on doing this.
Often, when I feel that way,
within a few minutes I am crying, remembering
his body, or an area of it,
his backside often, a part of him
perfect to think of, luscious, not too
detailed, and his back turned to me.
After tears, the heart is less sore,
as if some goddess of humanness
within us has caressed us with a gush of tenderness.
I guess that’s how people go on, without
knowing how. I am so ashamed
before my friends–to be known to be left
by the one who supposedly knew me best,
each hour is a room of shame, and I am
swimming, swimming, holding my head up,
smiling, joking, ashamed, ashamed,
like being naked with the clothed, or being
a child, having to try to behave
while hating the terms of your life. In me now
there’s a being of sheer hate, like an angel
of hate. On the badminton lawn, she got
her one shot, pure as an arrow,
while through the eyelets of my blouse the no-see-ums
bit the flesh that no one else
cares to touch. In the mirror, the torso
looks like a pin-up hives martyr
or a cream pitcher speckled with henbit, pussy paws,
full of the milk of human kindness
and unkindness, and no one cares to drink.
But look! I am starting to give him up!
I believe he is not coming back. Something
has died, inside me, believing that,
like the death of a crone in one twin bed
as a child is born in the other. Have faith,
old heart. What is living, anyway,
but dying.


The Promise

With the second drink, at the restaurant,
holding hands on the bare table,
we are at it again, renewing our promise
to kill each other. You are drinking gin,
night-blue juniper berry
dissolving in your body, I am drinking Fume,
chewing its fragrant dirt and smoke, we are
taking on earth, we are part soil already,
and wherever we are, we are also in our
bed, fitted, naked, closely
along each other, half passed out
after love, drifting back
and forth across the border of consciousness,
our bodies buoyant, clasped. Your hand
tightens on the table. You’re a little afraid
I’ll chicken out. What you do not want
is to lie in a hospital bed for a year
after a stroke, without being able
to think or die, you do not want
to be tied to a chair like a prim grandmother,
cursing. The room is dim around us,
ivory globes, pink curtains,
bound at the waist – and outside,
a weightless, luminous, lifted-up
summer twilight. I tell you you do not
know me if you think I will not
kill you. Think how we have floated together
eye to eye, nipple to nipple,
sex to sex, the halves of a creature
drifting up to the lip of matter
and over it – you know me from the bright, blood-
flecked delivery room, if a lion
had you in its jaws I would attack it, if the ropes
binding your soul are your own wrists, I will cut them.


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 old indigo chintz around him,
rich as a night sea 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 whirra 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.
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If the ropes binding your soul are your own wrists, I will cut them: five poems by Sharon Olds

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