Then, one late afternoon,
I understand: the harm my father
did us is receding. I never thought
it would happen, I thought his harm was stronger than that,
like God’s harm—flood, or birth without
eyes, with mounds of tissue, no retina, no
iris, the way my father on the couch did not
seem not to be using eyes
but not to have them, or to have objects
for eyes—Jocastal dress-brooches.
But he had not been hated, so he did not hate us,
just scorned us, and it is wearing off.
My son and daughter are grown, they are well
as if by some miracle. The afternoon
has a quality of miracle, the starlings all facing
the west, his grave. I come to the window
as if to open it and whisper
My father’s harm is fading. Then
I think that he would be glad to hear it
directly from me,
so I come to where you are, bone
settled under the dewed tangle
of the blackish Northwoods moss like the soft
hair of a beloved. I come to you here
because it is home: your done-with body
broken back down into earth, holding
its solemn incapable beauty.
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.