two parts from Sharon Olds poem “War.”

two parts of Sharon Olds twelve-part poem sequence entitled “War” (from Knopf-Poem-a-Day)

When He Came for the Family

They looked at their daughter standing with her music
in her hand, the page covered with dots and
lines, with its shared language. They knew
families had been taken. What they did not know
was the way he would pick her cello up
by the scroll neck and take its amber
torso-shape and lift it and break it
against the fireplace. The brickwork crushed the
close-grained satiny wood, they stood and
stared at him.

The Signal

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.

Excerpt from ONE SECRET THING. Copyright © 2008 by Sharon Olds.


Listen to a clip of Sharon Olds reading “The Signal”


Sharon Olds was born in 1942 in San Francisco and educated at Stanford University and Columbia University. She was the New York State Poet Laureate from 1998 to 2000. She teaches poetry workshops in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at New York University and was one of the founders of the NYU workshop program at Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island in New York. Her work has received the Harriet Monroe Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Lamont Selection of the Academy of American Poets, and the San Francisco Poetry Center Award. She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

About dearrosie

We think we need so much, when all we really need is time to breathe. Come walk with me, put one foot in front of the other, and get to know yourself. Please click the link to my blog - below - and leave me a comment. I love visitors.
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3 Responses to two parts from Sharon Olds poem “War.”

  1. I love Sharon Olds — took a poetry course last year and we read a book of her poems! thanks so much for sharing — Oh, and Mary Oliver too was brilliant. I may remember (ha!) the name of my last favorite — and send it to you. Thanks for sharing- poetry is the best way to start the day!

  2. Barbara says:

    I’m a fan of Mary Oliver, too, who I only recently discovered. Now I have another poet’s work to put on my wish list! Never heard of Sharon Olds before but I found the verses you posted here very touching and full of meaning. Thank you for the introduction!

    • dearrosie says:

      I’m happy I could introduce you to another wonderful poet Barbara, and too I’m happy to see that you’re finding interesting stuff in my old posts. Thank you for visiting.

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