Sharon Olds
While He Told Me

While he told me, I looked from small thing

to small thing in our room, the face

of the bedside clock, the sepia postcard

of a woman bending down to a lily.

Later, when we took off our clothes, I saw

his deep navel, and the cindery lichen 

silk, between the male breasts, and from

outside the shower curtain’s terrible membrane

I called out something like flirting to him

and he smiled. Before I turned out the light

he touched my face, then turned away,

then the dark. Then every scene I thought of

I visited accompanied by a death-spirit,

everything was chilled with it,

each time I woke I lay in dreading

bliss to feel and hear him sigh and

snore. Near sunrise, behind overcast, he got

up to go in and read on the couch,

as he often did,

and in a while I followed him,

as I often had,

and snoozed on him, while he read, and he laid

an arm across my back. When I opened

my eyes I saw two tulips stretched

away form each other extreme in the old

vase with the grotto carved out of a hill

and a person kneeling in it, praying. Around

the neck of the vase, its narrow sky,

were petioles, leaf-scars, pollen ashes,

pollen dust, as if I saw where he had been

living, my imagined shepherd in impermanent paradise.

Found In Volume 31, No. 02
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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.