Friday, September 26, 2008

Rite of Passage by Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds often writes openly about her issues with men and maleness. And while I want to take some offense to her making as much out of this anecdote as she does, I can't. It is a terrific little anecdote.

Besides, I've met her and she's extraordinarily kind.

Rite of Passage

As the guests arrive at our 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
up, a seven says to a six,
the midnight 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.

Born in San Francisco on November 19, 1942, Sharon Olds is the author of many successful books of poetry. She held the position of New York State Poet from 1998 to 2000. She currently teaches poetry workshops at New York University's Graduate Creative Writing Program.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a male banker, I could easily terminate a poet. Except she just gave me some food for thought -- and I don't just mean the midnight cake!

11:47 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Perhaps. But, in this economy, I'm confident the poet will have a job tomorrow -- the banker, not so much.

Sort of gets to the heart of Olds' poem, doesn't it? :-)

12:32 PM  
Blogger gmoke said...

"Soft, white
a banker's hands..."

Li Po was an excellent swordsman as well as a great poet. Philip Whalen had great force in his Buddha belly and threw a man across the room in fun and games once at Ken Kesey's house in Palo Alto.

Poets are not all neurasthenic weaklings.

But then, not all bankers are fat and old.

However, it just may be that all children are bloodthirsty at a certain age.

5:00 PM  
Blogger Ginger said...

i don't see this as being an issue so much with men or maleness as it is with the forming of the super-ego that happens to everyone. the child had a defining moment with his flash of diplomacy....his rite of passage.

12:09 AM  
Blogger fadeout32 said...

One certainly never sees competition and bullying amongst girls, thats for sure :p

11:48 AM  
Blogger christy ammaguchi said...

The way these little boy are described, it seems like what's the word? I just learned it in English. Juxtaposition! The boys seem so harsh and perhaps cruel, then they turn around and play war at a friend's birthday party. It really shows how innocent they are. I think that is where the juxtapostion comes in? I don't know a whole ton so I may not have the credentials. But I love this this poem.

4:30 PM  
Blogger Thomasd said...

I adore your blog. thanks for picking unique stuff!! :-)

1:50 PM  
Blogger Trent said...

sharon olds is a goddess. thanks for giving us such lovely poems each week :)

4:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have 2 boys - 7 and a 4.5. This is awesome!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's "Art Imitating Life." An excellent poem!

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Blogger Noelle said...

I love the detail of this poem. I am the mom of 3 boys and stepmom of another and I often see that dance between innocence and bravado.

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