Home > Poetry > Burial Day
Sharon Olds
Published: Tue Mar 26 2019
Burial Day

for Galway Kinnell

He is still above the earth—I mean
aboveground, above the horizon of the earth’s curved
rim. He spent the night—his body
spent the night in the barn, upstairs,
in his study, because it was the coldest place
indoors—wrapped in a blanket. And Fergus and
Gwyn dug the grave, the shovels
biting down through topsoil, sand,
gravel, rubble of granite, and Maud
washed his body, and with Tune Maud made
the pine box. They will place him in it—may be
lifting him now, gaunt moonrise over the ridge,
he may now be lying inside the growth-rings of
pine, they may have set the lid and he
may, this moment, be sinking down
through recent geologic layers—or some
ancient ones thrust up, there may be a
piece of a nautilus shell, from an African
ocean, being firmed over him.
O rest. The table is not far,
where the discs of the base of the wineglasses made
hypotenuses with the variable surface
of the rock. And I wonder if the world is not silent—
to be inside of—if it groans, if it creaks
as it turns. I know there is no one there in him
to hear it if it does, I know the slack
or rigid, lax or flexible, husk
is not he. Nor is he the one
lying between the pages of the books—
but open them, he will rise up
and sing. And he’s the one down inside
the vinyl trench, whom the needle will quicken and we’ll
hear him again. I am daydreaming, it’s so
quiet, here, hundreds of miles
from where they are setting the mortal part of our
Green Man into the Green Mountain.

Sharon Olds is the author of twelve books of poetry, including most recently Odes (2016) and Stag’s Leap (2012), winner of the Pulitzer Prize and England’s T. S. Eliot Prize. Her other honors include the inaugural San Francisco Poetry Center Award for her first book, Satan Says (1980), and the National Book Critics Circle Award for her second, The Dead and the Living (1983). The Unswept Room (2002) was a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Olds teaches in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at New York University and helped to found the NYU workshop program for residents of Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island, and for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Her next collection, Arias, will be published by Knopf in 2019. She lives in New York City. (updated 4/2019)

Olds’s AGNI poem “Hyacinth Aria” is reprinted in The Best American Poetry 2020.

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