Home > Poetry > Looking at My Father
Published: Fri Oct 15 1982
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
Looking at My Father

I do not think I am deceived about him,
I know about the drinking, I know he’s a tease,
obsessive, rigid, selfish, sentimental,
but I could look at my father all day
and not get enough: the large creased
ball of his forehead, slightly aglitter like the
sheen on a well-oiled baseball glove;
his eyebrows, the hairs two inches long,
black and silver, reaching out in
continual hope and curtailment; and most of
all I could look forever at his eyes,
the way they bulge out as if eager to see and
yet are glazed as if blind, the whites
hard and stained as boiled eggs
boiled in sulphur water, the irises
muddy as the crust on a live volcano, the
pupils glittering pure black,
magician black. Then there is his nose
rounded and pocked and comfy as the bulb of a
horn a clown would toot, and his lips
solid and springy. I even like to
look in his mouth, stained brown with
cigars and bourbon, my eyes sliding down the
long amber roots of his teeth,
right in there where Mother hated, and
up the scorched satin of the sides and
vault, even the darkness on the back of his
tongue. I know he is not perfect but my
body thinks his body is perfect, the
fine stretched coarse pink
skin, the big size of him, the
sour-ball mass, darkness, hair,
sex, legs even longer than mine,
lovely feet. What I know I know, what my
body knows it knows, it likes to
slip the leash of my mind and go and
look at him, like an animal
looking at water, then going to it and
drinking until it has had its fill and can
lie down and sleep.

See what's inside AGNI 17

Sharon Olds is the author of twelve books of poetry, including most recently Balladz (Alfred A. Knopf, 2022), a finalist for the National Book Award, 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. (updated 10/2023)

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

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