Sharon Olds

Continuing to Signal

The Signal
by Sharon Olds, from One Secret Thing

When they brought his body back, they told
his wife how he'd died:
the general thought they had taken the beach,
and sent in his last reserves. In the smokescreen,
the boats moved toward shore. Her husband
was the first man in the first boat
to move through the smoke and see the sand
dark with bodies, the tanks burning,
the guns thrown down, the landing craft
wrecked and floored with blood. In the path of the
bullets and shells from the shore, her husband had
put on a pair of white gloves
and turned his back on the enemy,
motioning to the boats behind him
to turn back. After everyone else
on his boat was dead
he continued to signal, then he, too,
was killed, but the other boats had seen him
and turned back. They gave his wife the medal,
and she buried him, and at night floated through
a wall of smoke, and saw him at a distance
standing in a boat, facing her,
the gloves blazing on his hands as he motioned her back.

Diagnosis

by Sharon Olds, from One Secret Thing

One Secret Thing

By the time I was six months old, she knew something
was wrong with me. I got looks on my face
she had not seen on any child
in the family, or the extended family,
or the neighborhood. My mother took me in
to the pediatrician with the kind hands,
a doctor with a name like a suit size for a wheel:
Hub Long. My mom did not tell him
what she thought was the truth, that I was Possessed.
It was just these strange looks on my face –
he held me, and conversed with me,
chatting as one does with a baby, and my mother
said, She’s doing it now! Look!
She’s doing it now! and the doctor said,
What your daughter has
is called a sense
of humor. Ohhh, she said, and took me
back to the house where that sense would be tested
and found to be incurable.

Late Bloomer

"I was a late bloomer. But anyone who blooms at all, ever, is very lucky...Many lives don't allow that, the good fortune of being able to work at it, and try, and keep trying."

-- Poet Sharon Olds, who published her first book of poems when she was 37 years old. In 2005, she wrote an open letter to Laura Bush declining an invitation to read from her work at the National Book Festival in protest of the Iraq War. Her poem "I Go Back to May 1937" opens the recent movie Into the Wild.