Sharon Olds is one of my very favorite poets. I hardly read a single poem of hers that doesn’t knock my head back. She writes of everyday things with clear insight, making small things big things (because that is, after all, the proper place for most small things). My favorites of her poems capture moments in time. This one captures a moment beautifully and connects us to other moments in her life. I love that it speaks of the love for her child and the very different, but equally compelling, love for her father.
For all you parents with kids going off to summer camp, this one is for you.
After she’s gone to camp, in the early
evening I clear our girl’s breakfast dishes
from the rosewood table, and find a small
crystallized pool of maple syrup, the
grains standing there, round, in the night, I
rub it with my fingertip
as if I could read it, this raised dot of
amber sugar, and this time
when I think of my father, I wonder why
I think of my father, of the beautiful blood-red
glass in his hand, or his black hair gleaming like a
broken-open coal. I think I learned to
love the little things about him
because of all the big things
I could not love, no one could, it would be wrong to.
So when I fix on this tiny image of resin
or sweep together with the heel of my hand a
pile of my son’s sunburn peels like
insect wings, where I peeled his back the night before camp,
I am doing something I learned early to do, I am
paying attention to small beauties,
whatever I have—as if it were our duty to
find things to love, to bind ourselves to this world.