Take the I Out

Sharon Olds - 1942-
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.

More by Sharon Olds

Voices

                (for Lucille)

Our voices race to the towers, and up beyond
the atmosphere, to the satellite,
slowly turning, then back down
to another tower, and cell. Quincy, 
Toi, Honoree, Sarah, Dorianne, 
Galway. When Athena Elizalex calls, 
I tell her I'm missing Lucille's dresses,
and her shoes, and Elizabeth says "And she would say,
"Damn! I do look good!'"  After we
hang up, her phone calls me again
from inside her jacket, in the grocery store
with her elder son, eleven, I cannot                        
hear the words, just part of the matter
of the dialogue, it's about sugar, I am
in her pocket like a spirit. Then I dream it — 
looking at an illuminated city 
from a hill, at night, and suddenly
the lights go out — like all the stars
gone out.  "Well, if there is great sex
in heaven," we used to say, "or even just
sex, or one kiss, what's wrong
with that?!"  Then I'm dreaming a map of the globe, with
bright pinpoints all over it —
in the States, the Caribbean, Latin America,
in Europe, and in Africa —
everywhere a poem of hers is being
read.  Small comfort.  Not small
to the girl who curled against the wall around the core
of her soul, keeping it alive, with long
labor, then unfolded into the hard truths, the
lucid beauty, of her song.            

                                                       15 Feb '10