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The Mortal One Analysis

Author: poem of Sharon Olds Type: poem Views: 10

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Three months after he lies dead, that

long yellow narrow body,

not like Christ but like one of his saints,

the naked ones in the paintings whose bodies are

done in gilt, all knees and raw ribs,

the ones who died of nettles, bile, the

one who died roasted over a slow fire—

three months later I take the pot of

tulip bulbs out of the closet

and set it on the table and take off the foil hood.

The shoots stand up like young green pencils,

and there in the room is the comfortable smell of rot,

the bulb that did not make it, marked with

ridges like an elephant's notched foot,

I walk down the hall as if I were moving through the

long stem of the tulip toward the closed sheath.

In the kitchen I throw a palmful of peppercorns into the


as if I would grow a black tree from the soup,

I throw out the rotten chicken part,

glad again that we burned my father

before one single bloom of mold could

grow up

out of him,

maybe it had begun in his bowels but we burned his


the way you burn the long blue

scarf of the dead, and all their clothing,

cleansing with fire. How fast time goes

now that I'm happy, now that I know how to

think of his dead body every day

without shock, almost without grief,

to take it into each part of the day the

way a loom parts the vertical threads,

half to the left half to the right like the Red Sea and you

throw the shuttle through with the warp-thread

attached to the feet, that small gold figure of my father—

how often I saw him in paintings and did not know him,

the tiny naked dead one in the corner,

the mortal one.

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