Knopf Poem-a-Day: April 16, Sharon Olds’s “The Last Hour”


Today, we are proud to share work by our poet Sharon Olds, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her collection Stag’s Leap. This intimate story of divorce, told in poems, was not completed by Olds until more than a decade after the events that shaped its contents. The “stag” of the title is—yes—the stag from the label on the couple’s favorite wine, as well as a metaphor for the husband, leaping off a precipice and bounding away. Summoning up this image causes Olds to admit, “Even when it’s I who am escaped from,/ I am half on the side of the leaver.” While the book begins with an unsparing chronology of the pain, loss, and even passion involved in the breakup of a thirty-year marriage, in a section entitled “January-December,” it ends with a group of poems called “Years Later,” by which point the fresh pain has become something quite different. This winter, Stag’s Leap also received the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry in England—making Olds the first woman ever to receive this honor. Warm congratulations to her on these well-deserved honors.

The Last Hour

Suddenly, the last hour
before he took me to the airport, he stood up,
bumping the table, and took a step
toward me, and like a figure in an early
science fiction movie he leaned
forward and down, and opened an arm,
knocking my breast, and he tried to take some
hold of me, I stood and we stumbled,
and then we stood, around our core, his
hoarse cry of awe, at the center,
at the end, of our life. Quickly, then,
the worst was over, I could comfort him,
holding his heart in place from the back
and smoothing it from the front, his own
life continuing, and what had
bound him, around his heart—and bound him
to me—now lying on and around us,
sea-water, rust, light, shards,
the little eternal curls of eros
beaten out straight.

Learn more about Sharon Olds’s Stag’s Leap and browse other titles by Sharon Olds.

Excerpted from STAG’S LEAP, © 2012 by Sharon Olds. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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