Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Surviving Relatives: for Sharon Olds

I. I put The Father back on the shelf. Feeling violation in
the bobbing public acknowledgements of the chin
next to me, buried deep in her copy of the plain beige
... sensing the certainty of fresh incineration,
the doubtless torment of your words, I left
the slim bookshop steeped in literati musk.

Safe abed, husband to my right.
I gazed at the closed copy of your earliest words, at balance
in open palm:
Glossy, fire red cover
Black gothic title
Your white Garamond name.

II. The first poem that touched all
the hollows and swells of my emergent I
was culled by Woman, crafted of women
And while I did not yet know the full
meaning of unforgettable abortions, I, too,
had heard "those voices of the wind."

She was flame and she was knife and she was
rocking chair, riding soft, on an August porch.
Black, fierce, woman sobs hurled to the air, to the
Ashes, to those who could pause to listen. She was The
Mother I never had, and the image for my own soul,
still in the making.

III. In the broken house, I began speaking with other poets, often,
all the time. I turned my back to Whitman's
Everyman and the world splayed according to
Eliot. I became intimate with Poe's caress of sound,
and embodiment of beautiful fear. I let Thomas'
Welch-flecked cadenzas spill all over, brim to the very
top of my Bronx teenaged room.

But where, I wondered, were the women? I searched and
I strained. I pushed out of Plath's suffocating Bell-Jar
and pushed against Sexton's awful upward stroking. They
violated my immunity and touched my violations.
Besides, they telegraphed their endings.
A decade further on, I still stayed to the path of
mindless meanderings, in flight from the death-grip
of a murdered childhood.

IV. I found, in time, new voices. The steel tongued
warrior songs of born-again victims.
Black, lesbian, female screams and shouts. Parker, Hooks and
Lorde, who took up the stiletto, giving form and incantation --
Slaying social and self hates in incising tongues and
irrepressible images. I cleaved to them, moving behind, now towards,
ever nearing, even when pale, man-centric, raw pieces
of me, might not all be welcome.

Then we met, though you did not know it.
Now you do. After all, this is your poem.
Kinnell offered you his book, the new one,
the one with iridescent Garamond lettering
on Gallic landscape (by Klimt). A good book,
with soft words, a fine book.
But this is your poem.

V. Satan Says so much. Doesn't He?
Everyday. He Speaks. Your father's heaping,
heavy body, studded with bile and waste, hurled
me back to other places, sites of distant, deliberate,
time, sites of desecrated 'lamb-white,
mustard seed, green and golden' impress.
I tried to dismiss you -- to fight the life grip of your
paged heart. Your brutal exaltations. Your gratuitous vulgarity.
‘a veritable thesaurus of filth, a litany of genitalia.’

But your truth impaled denial Exquisite, anguished
written communion drew me into the vortex of
ravaged souls. Yours and mine, now joined.
And from that union, I wanted out. I closed you quickly and
often. I even tried in quiet time to re-edit you.
But the siren would not be silenced.

VI. So having said all this. Having
shared all this, having partaken in this
ritual, the formalities of introduction.
I have something to say, to share with you.

Just as you are most welcome to embrace and eviscerate
these words, I will tell you frankly, that in That
Year you discovered your name -- as Jew, as survivor,
in that moment of impoverishment and birth, you left
something out, sold us both short. For, as you well
know, when the prison guard, the tormentor is your
God and your guardian. It is much worse

Than the space spanned in that last stanza, in the
space between Auschwitz and armistice, there is,
as Satan knows, as you know, as I know, a hideous
abyss. You cannot rage as collectivity in your
barracked cells, in the dignity of your
emaciation with your disemboweled brethren,
rocking and cradling a dying parent.

You cannot wear your yellow star, your pink triangle, with secret pride,
if Hell and Home and Home and Hell are one.
And your Goebbels is your world -- both Mother and
The Father.

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