I read a review in The Guardian about Sharon Old’s new book of poetry – Stag’s Leap. I then heard her discussing it (and doing a reading from it) on Radio 4. It’s a book of poems about her marriage breaking up – and has been shortlisted for the TS Elliot prize.
This is such a sad topic to write (and read) about – but Old’s brutal, saddening, heart-melting, spine-tingling honesty about how she felt losing the husband she loved is gripping and absorbing. And so I bought the book. I suppose it’s our voyeuristic tendencies, as well as an obsession with love, that makes works like this appeal.
Unspeakable, the second poem in the book, is so moving…
by Sharon Olds
Now I come to look at love
in a new way, now that I’m not
standing in its light. I want to ask my
almost-no-longer husband what it’s like to not
love, but he does not want to talk about it,
he wants a stillness at the end of it.
And sometimes I feel as if, already,
I am not here – to stand in his thirty-year
sight, and not in love’s sight,
I feel an invisibility
like a neutron in a cloud chamber buried in a mile-long
accelerator, where what cannot
be seen is inferred by what the visible
does. After the alarm goes off,
I stroke him, my hand feels like a singer
who sings along with him, as if it is
his flesh that’s singing, in its full range,
tenor of the higher vertebrae,
baritone, bass, contrabass.
I want to say to him, now, What
was it like, to love me – when you looked at me,
what did you see? When he loved me, I looked
out at the world as if from inside
a profound dwelling, like a burrow, or a well, I’d gaze
up, at noon, and see Orion
shining – when I thought he loved me, when I thought
we were joined not just for breath’s time,
but for the long continuance,
the hard candies of femur and stone,
the fastnesses. He shows no anger,
I show no anger but in flashes of humour,
all is courtesy and horror And after
the first minute, when I say, Is this about
her, and he says, No, it’s about
you, we do not speak of her.