the wellspring: poems, by sharon olds


My introduction to Sharon Olds’ poetry was in May of 1995, when her poem “January, Daughter” appeared in the New Yorker. One of my favorite professors had just had her first child, and I clipped the poem out of the magazine to give to her. The spare intimacy of it was striking. She is the most physical of poets – her work is sharp and uncluttered, but will move you so powerfully into the realm of an idea or belief that you feel it in your body. I have all of her books of poetry, and choosing this particular one to recommend is really mostly random. I’m basing my choice on the fact that I wanted to use a specific poem here, and it’s in The Wellspring. Like a lot of Olds’ work, it’s both funny and devastating; it feels light, but you’ll notice it hanging around later on.

Forty-One, Alone, No Gerbil
by Sharon Olds

In the strange quiet, I realize
there’s no on else in the house. No bucktooth
mouth pulls at stainless-steel teat, no
hairy mammal runs on a treadmill–
Charlie is dead, the last of our children’s half-children.
When our daughter found him lying in the shavings, trans-
mogrified
backwards from a living body
into a bolt of rodent bread
she turned her back on early motherhood
and went on single, with nothing. Crackers,
Fluffy, Pretzel, Biscuit, Charlie,
buried on the old farm we bought
where she could know nature. Well, now she knows it
and it sucks. Creatures she loved, mobile and
needy, have gone down stiff and indifferent,
she will not adopt again though she cannot
have children yet, her body like a blueprint
of the understructure for a woman’s body,
so now everything stops for a while,
now I must wait many years
to hear in this house again the faint
powerful calls of a young animal.

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