Two parties for Poetry Monday

Sharon OldsLisa Alvarez, whose blog The Mark on the Wall often features interesting poems as well as literary events in Orange County, mentioned on Facebook that it was her son’s 11th birthday. Thinking about children’s parties reminded me of two poems by Sharon Olds, who recently won the Pulitzer Prize.  These two are from her second book, The Dead and the Living:

Rite of Passage

As the guests arrive at my son’s party
they gather in the living room–
short men, men in first grade
with smooth jaws and chins.
Hands in pockets, they stand around
jostling, jockeying for place, small fights
breaking out and calming. One says to another
How old are you? Six. I’m seven. So?
They eye each other, seeing themselves
tiny in the other’s pupils. They clear their throats
a lot, a room of small bankers,
they fold their arms and frown. I could beat you
a seven says to a six,
the dark cake, round and heavy as a
turret, behind them on the table. My son,
freckles like specks of nutmeg on his cheeks,
chest narrow as the balsa keel of a
model boat, long hands
cool and thin as the day they guided him
out of me, speaks up as a host
for the sake of the group.
We could easily kill a two-year-old,
he says in his clear voice. The other
men agree, they clear their throats
like Generals, they relax and get down to
playing war, celebrating my son’s life.

*             *              *              *

The One Girl at the Boys’ Party

When I take my girl to the swimming party
I set her down among the boys. They tower and
bristle, she stands there smooth and sleek,
her math scores unfolding in the air around her.
They will strip to their suits, her body hard and
indivisible as a prime number,
they’ll plunge in the deep end, she’ll subtract
her height from ten feet, divide it into
hundreds of gallons of water, the numbers
bouncing in her mind like molecules of chlorine
in the bright blue pool. When they climb out,
her ponytail will hang its pencil lead
down her back, her narrow silk suit
with hamburgers and french fries printed on it
will glisten in the brilliant air, and they will
see her sweet face, solemn and
sealed, a factor of one, and she will
see their eyes, two each,
their legs, two each, and the curves of their sexes,
one each, and in her head she’ll be doing her
wild multiplying, as the drops
sparkle and fall to the power of a thousand from her body.

Sharon Olds

2 thoughts on “Two parties for Poetry Monday

  1. The poem about the boys is chilling and humorous at the same time. So wonderful and complex… thanks for sharing.

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