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Sharon Olds

I Go Back to 1937

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges, 
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the 
red tiles glinting like bent 
plates of blood behind his head, I 
see my mother with a few light books at her hip 
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the 
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its 
sword-tips black in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married, 
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop, 
don't do it--she's the wrong woman, 
he's the wrong man, you are going to do things 
you cannot imagine you would ever do, 
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of, 
you are going to want to die. I want to go 
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body, 
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don't do it. I want to live. I 
take them up like the male and female 
paper dolls and bang them together 
at the hips like chips of flint as if to 
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

For and Against Knowledge 

                                -for Christa MacAuliffe

What happened to her?  As long as it was she,
what did she see?  Strapped in,
tilted back, so her back was toward
the planet she was leaving, feeling the Gs
press her with their enormous palm, did she
weep with excitement in the roar, and in
the lens of a tear glimpse for an instant
a disc of fire?  If she were our daughter,
would I think about it, how she had died, was she
torn apart, was she burned— the way
I have wondered about the first seconds
of our girl’s life, when she was a cell a
cell had just entered, she hung in me
a ball of grey liquid, without nerves,
without eyes or memory, it was
she, I love her.  So I want to slow it
down, and take each millisecond
up, take her, at each point,
in my mind’s arms-- the first, final
shock hit, as if God touched
a thumb to her brain and it went out, like a mercy killing,
and then, when it was no longer she,
the flames came-- as we burned my father
when he had left himself.  Then the massive bloom un-
buckled and jumped, she was vaporized back
down to the level of the cell.  And the spirit--
I have never understood the spirit,
all I know is the shape it takes,
the wavering flame of flesh.  Those
who know about the spirit may tell you
where she is, and why.  What I want
to do is find every cell,
slip it out of the fishes’ mouths,
ash in the tree, soot in our eyes
where she enters our lives, I want to play it
backwards, burning jigsaw puzzle
of flesh, suck in its million stars
to meet, in the sky, boiling metal
fly back
together, and cool.
Pull that rocket
back down
surely to earth, open the hatch
and draw them out like fresh-born creatures,
sort them out, family by family, go
away, disperse, do not meet here.

-from Strike Sparks

BIO: Sharon Olds (born November 19, 1942) is an American poet. Olds has been the recipient of many awards including the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award, and the first San Francisco Poetry Center Award in 1980. She currently teaches creative writing at New York University.

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