Monday, October 03, 2005

The Promise by Sharon Olds

With the second drink, at the restaurant,
holding hands on the bare table,
we are at it again, renewing our promise
to kill each other. You are drinking gin,
night-blue juniper berry
dissolving in your body, I am drinking Fume
chewing its fragrant dirt and smoke, we are
taking on earth, we are part soil already,
and wherever we are, we are also in our
bed, fitted, naked, closely
along each other, half passed out,
after love, drifting back
and forth across the border of consciousness,
our bodies buoyant, clasped. Your hand
tightens on the table. You're a little afraid
I'll chicken out. What you do not want
is to lie in a hospital bed for a year
after a stroke, without being able
to think or die, you do not want
to be tied to a chair like your prim grandmother,
cursing. The room is dim around us,
ivory globes, pink curtains
bound at the waist- and outside,
a weightless, luminous, lifted-up
summer twilight. I tell you you do not
know me if you think I will not
kill you. Think how we have floated together
eye to eye, nipple to nipple,
sex to sex, the halves of a creature
drifting up to the lip of matter
and over it-you know me from the bright, blodd-
flecked delivery room, if a lion
had you in its jaws I would attack it, if the ropes
binding your soul are your own wrists, I will cut them.


I chose to put up this poem mostly because of the last line, "if a lion had you in its jaws I would attack it, if the ropes/binding your soul are your own wrists, I will cut them." This line is so powerful to me, because it shows an unrelenting side of the speaker, however, it is not cruel. She admits to saving her subject from death as openly as she admits to killing him if she needs to. It seems to me that this is the way she is describing a love so deep, that life would go first, before this love is compromised. It may be the speaker's subject has a terminal illness that would involve a deteriorating lifestyle, or else it may just be that the speaker and her lover are talking about a hypothetical situation, that, IF one's quality of life were to be compromised, the other one would take them to death first. I could be reading the poem too literally, but that's what I got from reading it a few times. The first time I read it, I took "renewing our promise to kill each other" to mean that these are two lovers that fight so much but are bound to each other. But then the lines "you're a little afraid/I'll chicken out. What you do not want/ is to lie in a hospital bed for a year/ after a stroke..." make me think that it really is a promise to kill the other person, if need be.

3 Comments:

Blogger Matt said...

I thought this was interesting because the two lovers promise to stay together, even if it kills them inside. The imagery is so strong that I got something new, every time I read it. It does seem a little heavy on the metaphors, but you did a good job decomposing this poem.

11:12 PM  
Blogger Genevieve von Walstrom,M.D. said...

I'm sorry but this poem doesn't have anything to do with, " ... two lovers who promise to stay together even if it kills them..." Also, when you analyze or try to figure out the meaning behind an author's poetry, it's called paraphrasing (you don't decompose a poem). S.O. Is my favorite poet of all time; hence, my reason to defend her. Yes, in this poem the speaker and her husband renew a sacred vow, each promises to save the other from the shame and humiliation that coincide with losing all independence, held hostage by your own insanity, unable to communicate, alone and frightened. The vows they make to each other are still vows of love. The poem is exceptional because it tells readers about a secret that often goes unspoken; at the end of life being able to offer death, becomes the ultimate act of love.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Howard Satinsky said...

Thank you for posting this poem. I am currently teaching a course in memoir writing at Goodwin College in East Hartford, CT and see Olds as the finest example of the almost godlike power of simple description.

I clearly see the two people discussing what they would like from each other in the event of a catastrophic illness. She implores him to know that wherever they are they are still fitted together in their bed (I am paraphrasing obviously) -- that their love-making can conceive a child and also validate their spiritual essences -- "over the lip of matter."

So to cut his wrists in order to free his soul, to me, is the highest order of commitment to the life of his soul and its connection to hers. Makes me weep from its power and beauty....

Thanks again.

Howard Satinsky
Assistant Professor of English
Goodwin College

7:28 AM  

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