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"Ode to My Sister": a poem by Sharon Olds


Hillery Stone

The poet Sharon Olds

Pulitzer Prize-winning — in 2013, for Stag’s Leappoet Sharon Olds will appear in Las Vegas Friday, to lead a writing workshop (6p in Building D of the College of Southern Nevada’s Charleston campus) and on Saturday, to read from her work (7p, Clark County Library). The poem below is from her 2016 book Odes. You can also listen to her read it as part of her recent interview with KNPR’s “State of Nevada.”


Ode to My Sister


I know why they say the heart is in

the heart. When you think about people you love,

you get warm there. I want to thank

my sister for loving me, which taught me

to love. I’m not sure what she loved in me,

besides my love for her — maybe

that I was a copy of her, half-size —

then three-quarters, then size. In the snapshots, you see her

keeping an eye on me, I was a little wild

and I said silly things, and she would laugh her serious

laugh. My sister knew things,

sometimes she knew everything,

as if she’d been born knowing. And I

so did not know — my wonder went

along with me wherever we’d go,

as if I had it on a tool belt —

I understood almost nothing, and I

loved pertinding, and I loved to go into the

garden and dance with the flowers, which danced

with me without hardly moving their green

legs, I was like a music box

dropped on my head. And I was bad —

but I don’t think my sister thought I was actually

bad, I was her somewhat smaller

littermate — nor did she need

my badness to establish her goodness. And she

was beautiful, with a moral beauty, she would

glide by, in the hall, like a queen

on a barge on the Nile, she had straight black hair

that moved like a black waterfall, as

one thing, like a black silk skirt.

She was the human. I aspired to her.

And she stood     between     the god     and me.

And her hair (pertind) was like a wing

of night, and in my dreams she could hold it

over me, and hide me. Of course,

by day, if the god wanted you for something,

she took you. I think if the god had known how to

take my curly hair from my head,

she would have. And I think there was nothing my sister

wanted to take from me. Why would

she want to, she had everything —

in our room she had control of the door,

closed, or open, and the light switch,

dark, or bright. And if anything

had happened to me, I think my sister

would not have known who she was, I was almost

essential to her, as she to me.

If anything had happened to her,

I think I would not be alive today,

and no one would remember me,

as if I had not lived.

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