Sharon Olds
Graduation Aria

When she’d tried to shush the families behind us,
and in front of us, and beside us, scowling
in fastidious distaste -- they were chatting, during
her grandson’s graduation; when
the ceremony had ended; when the dinner
was eaten, when we took her back
to her room in the college dormitory like a
medieval fortress, and went
over the room, with her, again --
the window, the light, the heat, the key,
the bathroom she would share with strangers --
I pretended everything was fine, but I saw,
for a moment, that my mother really had been
an orphan, she’d never for a moment had a mother
who could love her.  So I kissed her forehead, and left her
there, little pack-rat in an old stone room
with a twenty-four-foot ceiling, and I went
upstairs, and in a narrow dorm bed like a
trough my husband and I flew through the
air carolling -- now I see I was
trilling like the wren who threw the phoebe
nestling out of the back-porch nest, I was
that kind of happy, having put
my mother in durance.  For years, then,
I ate my gladness of her anxious night
without knowing I was eating it.
Weeks before her death, she smiled, and
said, “Remember that dungeon?” and I kissed her
with sudden affection toward the one who without
having been loved by her own mother
had taught me to love her and hate her, to hate and love.

    

 

 

Found In Volume 48, No. 05
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Sharon Olds
About the Author

Sharon Olds's most recent book is Arias (Penguin/Random House, 2019). Among her many honors are the Pulitzer Prize, the T.S. Eliot Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. She teaches poetry workshops at New York University’s Graduate Creative Writing Program.