We passed each other, turned and stopped for half an hour, then went our way,
I who make other women smile did not make you—
But no man can move mountains in a day.
So this hard thing is yet to do.
But first I want your life:—before I die I want to see
The world that lies behind the strangeness of your eyes,
There is nothing gay or green there for my gathering, it may be,
Yet on brown fields there lies
A haunting purple bloom: is there not something in grey skies
And in grey sea?
I want what world there is behind your eyes,
I want your life and you will not give it me.
Now, if I look, I see you walking down the years,
Young, and through August fields—a face, a thought, a swinging dream
perched on a stile—;
I would have liked (so vile we are!) to have taught you tears
But most to have made you smile.
To-day is not enough or yesterday: God sees it all—
Your length on sunny lawns, the wakeful rainy nights—; tell me—;
(how vain to ask), but it is not a question—just a call—;
Show me then, only your notched inches climbing up the garden wall,
I like you best when you are small.
Is this a stupid thing to say
Not having spent with you one day?
No matter; I shall never touch your hair
Or hear the little tick behind your breast,
And as a flying bird
Brushes the branches where it may not rest
I have brushed your hand and heard
The child in you: I like that best
So small, so dark, so sweet; and were you also then too grave and wise?
Always I think. Then put your far off little hand in mine;—
Oh! let it rest;
I will not stare into the early world beyond the opening eyes,
Or vex or scare what I love best.
But I want your life before mine bleeds away—
Here—not in heavenly hereafters—soon,—
I want your smile this very afternoon,
(The last of all my vices, pleasant people used to say,
I wanted and I sometimes got—the Moon!)
You know, at dusk, the last bird’s cry,
And round the house the flap of the bat's low flight,
Trees that go black against the sky
And then—how soon the night!
No shadow of you on any bright road again,
And at the darkening end of this—what voice? whose kiss? As if you’d say!
It is not I who have walked with you, it will not be I who take away
Peace, peace, my little handful of the gleaner’s grain
From your reaped fields at the shut of day.
Peace! Would you not rather die
Reeling,—with all the cannons at your ear?
So, at least, would I,
And I may not be here
To-night, to-morrow morning or next year.
Still I will let you keep your life a little while,
I have made you smile.
This poem is in the public domain.
I walked upon a hill
And the wind, made solemnly drunk with your presence,
Reeled against me.
I stooped to question a flower,
And you floated between my fingers and the petals,
Tying them together.
I severed a leaf from its tree
And a water-drop in the green flagon
Cupped a hunted bit of your smile.
All things about me were steeped in your remembrance
And shivering as they tried to tell me of it.
This poem is in the public domain.
But I love the I, steel I-beam
that my father sold. They poured the pig iron
into the mold, and it fed out slowly,
a bending jelly in the bath, and it hardened,
Bessemer, blister, crucible, alloy, and he
marketed it, and bought bourbon, and Cream
of Wheat, its curl of butter right
in the middle of its forehead, he paid for our dresses
with his metal sweat, sweet in the morning
and sour in the evening. I love the I,
frail between its flitches, its hard ground
and hard sky, it soars between them
like the soul that rushes, back and forth,
between the mother and father. What if they had loved each other,
how would it have felt to be the strut
joining the floor and roof of the truss?
I have seen, on his shirt-cardboard, years
in her desk, the night they made me, the penciled
slope of her temperature rising, and on
the peak of the hill, first soldier to reach
the crest, the Roman numeral I—
I, I, I, I,
girders of identity, head on,
embedded in the poem. I love the I
for its premise of existence—our I—when I was
born, part gelid, I lay with you
on the cooling table, we were all there, a
forest of felled iron. The I is a pine,
resinous, flammable root to crown,
which throws its cones as far as it can in a fire.
From Blood, Tin, Straw by Sharon Olds, published by Alfred A. Knopf. Copyright © 1999 by Sharon Olds. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.