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September 11, 2006

My affection, well it comes and goes

There's a poem by Sharon Olds that I first read in college, nearly half a lifetime ago. I think I was just turned 18 when I first read her stuff, and it was powerful and amazing to read a woman, a poet, using such muscular language, saying such strong things. I didn't read her because of a class or anything; I read her because I was friends with, and used to sometimes babysit for, a poet on the faculty at LSU. Here's the poem that's on my mind today:

Sex Without Love

How do they do it, the ones who make love
without love? Beautiful as dancers,
gliding over each other like ice-skaters
over the ice, fingers hooked
inside each other's bodies, faces
red as steak, wine, wet as the
children at birth whose mothers are going to
give them away. How do they come to the
come to the come to the God come to the
still waters, and not love
the one who came there with them, light
rising slowly as steam off their joined
skin? These are the true religious,
the purists, the pros, the ones who will not
accept a false Messiah, love the
priest instead of the God. They do not
mistake the lover for their own pleasure,
they are like great runners: they know they are alone
with the road surface, the cold, the wind,
the fit of their shoes, their over-all cardio-
vascular health--just factors, like the partner
in the bed, and not the truth, which is the
single body alone in the universe
against its own best time.

When I read that, as a girl of 18, I thought it was a criticism of people who "make love without love"; I found the second half of the poem to be a kind of sarcastic explanation of what a person like that would be like. What fools we are, as kids.

I read it now as a rationalization, as a woman trying to comfort herself by coming up with some sort of explanation of "how do they do it?" because she loves someone who doesn't love her, and yet the sex makes her feel they should love her, because how could they not? She needs a way to think about it that makes her lover a seeker of truth and not a monster. In the end it sounds to me like she admires the lover, but still doesn't understand.

::many, many miserable sighs::


Rough day today; the high point was successfully cleaning out a sink trap, which was the single grossest household task I have ever undertaken. It made me feel competent, though, and that was kind of great. But the day went downhill from there. More details (on the sink, and the going downhill) TK.

Posted by Rose at September 11, 2006 04:48 AM


What an amazing poem. I have been there too many times (the woman trying to understand) and the poet (and you) have captured the feelings perfectly. Delurking here to offer you my heartfelt wishes that life gets easier and happier for you. And that peace (with or without the easier/happier) finds you.
Thank you for sharing your life and your heart here and it DOES make a difference, to my life, at least.

Sending you love and light and a virtual hug.

Posted by: caroline at September 11, 2006 11:49 AM

Thanks so much for being the only rational voice out there on this poem. I've just written about it for my blog and yours was the only reasonable critique I could find.

Posted by: Ash at December 24, 2007 01:18 PM

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