Poet's Choice

By Mary Karr
Sunday, September 7, 2008

Even 33 years after I first read Sharon Olds, I remember the fresh shock her poems delivered like a body blow. She's a keen student of the human mind, and no aspect of the agony and bliss we inflict on each other is off limits. In "The Sisters of Sexual Treasure," when the speaker and her sibling escape a brutal childhood home aflame with Calvinism, they begin behaving promiscuously, as though to obliterate their cruel mother with "her tiny sparrow body and narrow/grasshopper legs." Olds colors these freeing adventures in the dark tones of our ultimate taboo:

The men's bodies

were like our father's body! The massive

hocks, flanks, thighs, male

structure of the hips, knees, calves --

we could have him there, the steep forbidden


She eases us into this outrageous idea with a metaphor, which concludes by reintroducing the girls' need to escape their punishing mother:

Like explorers who

discover a lost city, we went

nuts with joy, undressed the men

slowly and carefully, as if

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