You first see The Gold Cell through binoculars and press clippings. On the longest day of the year, a man is talked down from the roof of a building by concerned police officers. A woman confronts her own racism on a New York city subway. Paramedics save an abandoned baby. A man has a conjoined twin. A young girl survives rape but her friend does not. The stories are told as facts. No need for melodrama. The truth of the events is enough blood.
"Outside The Operating Room Of The Sex Change Doctor" is sweet mango candy with a jalapeno center. It begins a trio of poems that I use in workshops and classes. "The Solution" which snakes around Sharon's (I don't know if it's ok to call her Sharon yet. There's still a distance here. Like she is someone you're standing in line at the post office, and you're both afraid it might close before you can send out your really important documents, and she just made a very funny joke, but you don't know if she made the joke for you or if you just happen to be standing near her while she makes the joke to herself.) "The Solution" snakes around Ms. Olds's projection for how to fix "the singles problem". (Is being single a problem? is not the address on the envelope she's affixing stamps to. It's for the people who want. It's for people who want to be wanted. It's for people who want in very specific ways that 1987 didn't know how to handle with their lack of Craigslist and farmer-themed dating websites.) "The Solution" snakes around Ms. Olds's view of American sex, and it plops us at the feet of her next poem "The Pope's Penis" where she grants...ahem...a weight to what's inside the Vatican leader's robes. She closes the first section with open arms, watching imaginary mother and imaginary daughter in bliss. This is the section I use in workshops and classes because sometimes a poet doesn't need to memoir and "I" to make poetry seem personal.
Section 2 is her childhood. Her parents. Her how-do-I-forgive-the-loving-monsters-who-raised-me parents. She begins the section with "I Go Back To May, 1937" where she debates keeping her parents from falling in love so that they won't hurt each other. Then Polaroids of what was. Being held over a laundry chute to fix wires. Lies about presents. Driving up steep hills. Her mother's diet. All these innocent sounding things make for poems rooted with grief and regret but mostly love. (And now she is definitely Sharon, not Ms. Olds. You envy her forgiveness now. You wouldn't dare reassure her things will be alright, because you know that she understands more than you are capable of understanding. You would take back every negative thought you've had about your family except that her narrative is telling you no, you can forgive what you need to forgive, forget what you need to forget, but never feel your story isn't important. You feel that once Sharon is finished telling you about her parents, she will ask you about yours, and no matter the size of your fondness or grievances, she will listen and you will feel everything is...not right...not better...survivable...allowed.)
In the third section Sharon leads us away from her past, into the garden of her first love, her first kiss, and her first sex before we arrive in her 1987 present. In "Premonition" she drives through a parking lot filled with children, terrified she will injure or kill one with her car. Then she drives her car into your sternum. She didn't turn on her blinkers. Her hard left against the red light leaves you sitting in your own car, terrified to move or not move.
The final section introduces us to her children. She mentioned them in the third section but now we learn their names and watch them grow for a bit. Sharon is a thoughtful mother, but she also respects you. Each poem is a picture she takes out of her wallet to show you how she loves them. And, and this is unusual for doting parents, none of her photos look the same. It is not four headshots of a child dressed up and wearing identical forced smiles. Everything is candid. Everything shows she, and her children, and obviously everyone, is flawed. Love is flawed most of all. But worth it.
You want to thank Sharon for talking to you. (Oh god, are we still snaking in a line at the post office? Is that sort of metaphor still happening? Because the window is closed and the lights are out. And you feel that maybe your letter wasn't important enough to mail, but you also feel that you already mailed it. Sharon gives you such conflicting feelings of accomplishment.) You want to thank Sharon for not talking down to you or thinking you needed her to explain her feelings. You want to thank her for leaving her thesaurus at home and just talking to you like a normal person. A person who maybe likes poetry or maybe likes interweaving flash fiction. You just want to thank her.
An ongoing conversation between writers and the text that they're reading.