In this wise and intimate new book, Sharon Olds tells the story of a divorce, embracing strands of love, sex, sorrow, memory, and new freedom.
As she carries us through the seasons when her marriage was ending, Olds opens her heart to the reader, sharing the feeling of invisibility that comes when we are no longer standing in love’s sight; the surprising physical bond that still exists between a couple during parting; the loss of everything from her husband’s smile to the set of his hip; the radical change in her sense of place in the world. Olds is naked before us, curious and brave and even generous toward the man who was her mate for thirty years and who now loves another woman. As she writes in the remarkable “Stag’s Leap,” “When anyone escapes, my heart / leaps up. Even when it’s I who am escaped from, / I am half on the side of the leaver.” Olds’s propulsive poetic line and the magic of her imagery are as lively as ever, and there is a new range to the music—sometimes headlong, sometimes contemplative and deep. Her unsparing approach to both pain and love makes this one of the finest, most powerful books of poetry she has yet given us.
Known for her unadorned, emotionally direct, sometimes sexually explicit free verse, Olds has amassed a large and loyal following over 30-odd years and 10 books. In her new collection every poem speaks to the collapse of a 30-year marriage, precipitated by the ex-husband's affair. Hence the memorable title: "The drawing on the label of our favorite red wine/ looks like my husband, casting himself off a/ cliff in his fervor to get free of me." Olds begins as the marriage is ending: "I want to ask my/ almost-no-longer husband what it's like to not/ love, but he doesn't not want to talk about it." Years later, he is a memory: Olds can "watch my idea of him pull away/ and stay, and pull away," like a kite. In between there are violently mixed feelings, erotic memories, loneliness, anger, and resolve in a book that takes its arc from the divorce, but its organization from the seasons, moving from winter to spring to "years later," and frequently looking back: "Maybe I'm half over who he/ was, but not who I thought he was, and not/ over the wound, sudden deathblow/ as if out of nowhere."