Ode of Girls’ Things

Sharon Olds - 1942-

I loved the things that were ours—pink gloves,
hankies with a pastoral scene in one corner.
There was a lot we were not allowed to do,
but what we were allowed to do was ours,
dolls you carry by the leg, and dolls’ 
clothes you would put on or take off—
someone who was yours, who did not
have the rights of her own nakedness,
and who had a smooth body, with its
untouchable place, which you would never touch, even on her,
      you had been cured of that.
And some of the dolls had hard-rubber hands, with
dimples, and though you were not supposed to, you could
bite off the ends of the fingers when you could not stand it.
And though you’d never be allowed to, say, drive a bus,
or do anything that had to be done right, there was a
teeny carton, in you, of eggs
so tiny they were invisible.
And there would be milk, in you, too—real
milk! And you could wear a skirt, you could  
be a bellflower—up under its
cone the little shape like a closed
buckle, intricate groove and tongue,
where something like God’s power over you lived. And it
      turned out
you shared some things with boys—
the alphabet was not just theirs—
and you could make forays over into their territory,
you could have what you could have because it was yours,
and a little of what was theirs, because
you took it. Much later, you’d have to give things
up, too, to make it fair—long
hair, skirts, even breasts, a pair
of raspberry colored pumps which a friend
wanted to put on, if they would fit his foot, and they did.

More by Sharon Olds

Take the I Out

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.

Related Poems

Let Everything Happen to You

As a girl I made my calves into little drinking elephants,
I would stare at the wonder of their pumping muscles,
the sup of their leg-trunks. I resuscitated a bunny once
from my cat’s electric teeth. I was on neighborhood watch
to save animals, as many as I could. My damage was easy.
My plainspoken voice is a watercolor. I’m afraid of it
as I’m afraid of what the world will do to color. I don’t
think I’ve done much. A table leans against itself
to be a table. I hold nothing but this air. I give it off.
I want a literature that is not made from literature, says Bhanu.
Last night my legs ached a low-tone. I imagined the body
giving itself up for another system. Dandelions tickling
out of my knee. The meniscus a household of worms.
It is okay to bear. My apartment hums in a Rilke sense.
A pain blooms. I am told that it’s okay to forego details
of what happened. I am told it doesn’t matter now.
I want to write sentences for days. I want days to not
be a sentence. We put men in boxes and sail them away.
Justice gave me an amber necklace. I tried to swallow
as many as I could.