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Winter 2016

Donner Party Mother Ode

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I’m glad that my mother was cremated whole,
despite the operatic crackling and
Medean explosions in the box, and the singing
of the fat as it gave up its bright ghost,
glad she was consumed to ash,
and cooled, and dried—though some animal grease
remained, I felt it, I felt awe to touch it.
And I’m glad that—with prayers, with sobbing
and awe—she was let go, by her children, like
grey down, onto the cold
bosomy swells of the bay, where she sank
in clouds of changing shape, in chalky
beauty, like a child dancing when no one
can see her. I am glad my mother
was dispersed, I am glad she is everywhere
and nowhere. And could I have feasted on my mother,
at Donner Lake? I think she might have
wanted me to—there was, in her, when she was
old, such a new pleasure that I
was alive. And I think—maybe sitting in her
kitchen, we could have joked about it, I
think I’d start with your earlobes
I might have said to my mother, as if flirting—and I can
see my mom saying, you know where I’d
start with you, Shar, your best part,
my favorite part
—how I fooled my mother—
your loving heart—how I’ve tried to fool
myself, as if all my life I have not loved her and mourned her.

—Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds's many books of poetry include The Gold Cell, The Father, One Secret Thing, and Stag's Leap.

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