Pacific Coast Ode

Sharon Olds

First light; minus tide;
above the Pacific Ocean bowl
the moon is drawing the sea up into a
green nipple craving her mouth.
Here, above the pine-tops, the air
is making grey breaths, like my mother’s
ashes into the Bay, the sinuous
trail of her will dissolving under
our feet, and then we threw her whole
garden in, after her,
we were weeping with abject loss and relief.
And now out there, under the surface,
there may be an atom of my mother upright like a
gyroscope riding its string. And if there’s a
Petite or Extra-Petite piece of the
little, ground-up ulna of her right
forearm -- forehand forearm, armed
harm’s-way forehand forearm -- out there
underwater inside this expanse, may it be
lit by the pink parlor shade of a
lanternfish lamp, may it spend the night in the
glistening hula gullet of a condom,
may it be breathed into the hull
of a crinoline oyster, to turn to the glister of a
pearl -- when they erotic you,
it’s for life. Each day, I try not
to think of my mother for most of the day, try to
reason with myself, as poets who liked Stalin tried to
talk themselves out of it. And the sea
scales herself, at her edge, sloughing
the curd crumbs of her extra salt
skin -- and suddenly, I’m back there:
Mary Martin is shampooing her hair
and singing, nothing between us, in the front
row but the ship’s bow of the stage,
my mother is beside me, and the woman in her bra is going to
wash that ma’am right out of her hair, I heard her say it,
and as she lathered in her underwear in public and cried
out on key, a sud flew
from her moon-horned head and landed on the back of this
living hand, now warm and capable.

This is one of three poems by Sharon Olds. Click to read "Departure Gate" or "Mean-Spirited Poem of Thanks to My Mother."