Sunday, August 14, 2011

Don't Look Back

One Secret Thing by Sharon Olds is a collection of beautiful, often painful poems. She writes about a childhood spent feeling worthless, terrorized by and terrified of her parents; about becoming a parent; about watching her frightening mother age into a different, more likable character; about growing older herself.

Sharon Olds can also be very funny. Case in point: A little more than halfway through One Secret Thing you'll find this poem, which made me laugh out loud (ruefully and with recognition).

Self Portrait, Rear View
by Sharon Olds

The Valpincon Bather
by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
At first I almost do not believe it, in the hotel
triple mirror, that that is my body, in
back, below the waist, and above
the legs—the thing that doesn’t stop moving
when I stop moving.
And it doesn’t even look like just one thing,
or even one big, double thing
—even the word saddlebags has a
smooth, calfskin feel to it

compared to this compendium
of net string bags, shaking their booty of
cellulite fruits and nuts. Some lumps
look like bonbons translated intact
from chocolate box to buttocks, the curl on top
showing, slightly, through my skin. Once I see what I can
do with this, I do it, high-stepping
to make the rapids of my bottom
and ripple like a world wonder. Slowly,
I believe what I am seeing, a 54-year-old
rear end, once a tight end,
high and mighty, almost a chicken butt,
now exhausted, as if tragic. But this is not
an invasion, my cul-de-sac is not being
used to hatch alien cells, ball peens,
gyroscopes, sacks of marbles. It’s my hoard
of treasure, my good luck, not to be
dead, yet, though when I flutter
the wing of my ass again, and see
in a clutch of eggs, each egg,
on its own, as if shell-less, shudder, I wonder
if anyone has ever died,
looking in a mirror, of horror. I think I will
not even catch a cold from it,
I will go to school to it, to Butt
Boot Camp, to the video store, where I saw,
in the window, my hero, my workout jelly
role model, my apotheosis: Killer Buns.


  1. I love this, of course—but equally love your choice of art to accompany it. Your illustrative choices are like NPR's musical send-offs for their news and feature stories. Ingenious.

  2. Love this. And Susan, I agree.

  3. Thanks, I had to share this. And the art had to be Ingres. When I was a student at SVA, one of my teachers made us copy Ingres drawings line for line. It was madness, but I knew it would come in handy one of these years!