Monday, May 28, 2012

How Reading Sharon Olds' “The Father” Poems Made Me Feel

“I put my arms around a trunk and squeezed it,
Then I lay down on my father’s grave....
When I kissed the stone it was not enough,
When I licked it my tongue went dry a moment, I
Ate his dust, I tasted my dirt host.” -- From The Father
Such wild and passionate exaggeration! 
The way this poet makes oceans out of tears, 
volcanoes out of pimples, 
entire solar systems out of self-immolations, 
writing herself into the burning center, 
shining so extremely, 
a star on the verge of collapse,
pulling her father and mother--
those lifeless planets stuck
in her gravity. 

The mass of her grief astounds me.
It is light years thick with planets of sorrow, 
not theirs--but her own unquenchable agony. 

It’s what draws me closer, turning the pages.

At first her pain, though magnetic, seems unimaginable, 
but then becomes visible, more and more real 
until it becomes my own. 

With every line, she peals away
my peach skin, cuts me open, drops me pitted 
into her dark cup, 
into its radiant sludge and I feel
so delicate, floating so tenderly 
that she could eat me with her gums.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


When he opens his mouth, I inhale the hops
of Papst Blue Ribbon, the toast of Lucky Strikes,
Gillette's sandalwood floats from him, so too the
copper scent of deer blood and the opossum he slams 
against our house and boils unshorn. 
(He could have shot it--he keeps
rifles in the house.)
He’s not a family man, my grandmother warns
but my mother runs from her broken down country,
its wiped-out illusions, to New York and then regrets it 
immediately and every morning to that morning when my
father’s liver gives out and even after that, right up to when 
my mother takes her own last, she regrets it.
He tells her he’s sorry. He says so just before he points
to eagles circling above his bed. 
He says, I know when I'm right and I know 
when I'm wrong and I was wrong.   
That’s not good enough for my mother but it’s good 

enough for me.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Boy Next Door

My room is small. 
A twin bed stands
beneath a window
where every night
across the street
Tommy’s mufflerless
chevy rumbles
up to his house 
with a boom. 

And next to the bed, 
a long dresser
with a column 
of  mayonnaise jars 
where lightning bugs
flare like comets.

I count the comets 
until a light
shines on my window
from Tommy’s house
and I hear Tommy 
turn on his shower.

I count the moments
until my room turns still
and dark again
and I go back to counting
the sparks
in the mayonnaise jars.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

One Last Mothering

There’s nothing to cry about.
It’s my mother’s voice speaking, 
Out of the blue, for the first time in days
Her eyes fly open like a doll’s.
There’s nothing to cry about. 

And there’s nothing to fear.
Her eyes flutter shut, her
Voice sinks back into its box
For good.
Alone in the room I still cry.
But now, upraised and thankful

For the shimmer above the clouds
For the waves of light in which
A thimble of flesh weighs more than a star
Where only souls survive,
And there's nothing to cry about, 
And nothing to fear.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Raising My Grandson

For a long time, 
I avoided the words 

in his presence.
I didn’t say Jake's mom, but Sandra.
Not the puppy's mommy, but the big dog
Not my mother, but your great grandma.

He asked, Do I have a mom?
Other words I avoided:

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Your children are so lucky,

we're often told.
Saved from a childhood of neglect

and maybe worse. 
Rarely mentioned,

we are lucky, too.
Saved from a life of self-attention
and nothing's worse. 

Copyright (c) 2012 Ellen McCarthy. All rights reserved.