Sharon Olds

Cambridge Elegy

(for Henry Averell Gerry, 1941-60)

I scarcely know how to speak to you now, 
you are so young now, closer to my daughter's age 
than mine — but I have been there and seen it, and must 
tell you, as the seeing and hearing 
spell the world into the deaf-mute's hand. 
The dormer windows like the ears of a fox, like the
double row of teats on a pig, still 
perk up over the Square, though they're digging up the 
street now, as if digging a grave, 
the shovels shrieking on stone like your car 
sliding on its roof after the crash. 
How I wanted everyone to die if you had to die, 
how sealed into my own world I was, 
deaf and blind. What can I tell you now, 
now that I know so much and you are a 
freshman still, drinking a quart of orange juice and 
playing three sets of tennis to cure a hangover, such an 
ardent student of the grown-ups! I can tell you 
we were right, our bodies were right, life was 
really going to be that good, that
pleasurable in every cell. 
Suddenly I remember the exact look of your body, but 
better than the bright corners of your eyes, or the 
light of your face, the rich Long Island
puppy-fat of your thighs, or the slick
chino of your pants bright in the corner of my eyes, I 
remember your extraordinary act of courage in 
loving me, something no one but the 
blind and halt had done before. You were 
fearless, you could drive after a sleepless night 
just like a grown-up, and not be afraid, you could 
fall asleep at the wheel easily and 
never know it, each blond hair of your head — and they were 
thickly laid — put out like a filament of light, 
twenty years ago. The Charles still 
slides by with that ease that made me bitter when I  
wanted all things hard as your death was hard; 
wanted all things broken and rigid as the
bricks in the sidewalk or your love for me
stopped cell by cell in your young body.
Ave — I went ahead and had the children,
the life of ease and faithfulness, the 
palm and the breast, every millimeter of delight in the body, 
I took the road we stood on at the start together, I 
took it all without you as if 
in taking it after all I could most honor you.

spoken = Linsay Rousseau