Weekly Poem: ‘The Worst Thing’

BY Mike Melia  October 1, 2012 at 1:22 PM EDT

By Sharon Olds


One side of the highway, the waterless hills.
The other, in the distance, the tidal wastes,
estuaries, bay, throat
of the ocean. I had not put it into
words, yet—the worst thing,
but I thought that I could say it, if I said it

word by word. My friend was driving,

sea-level, coastal hills, valley,

foothills, mountains—the slope, for both,
of our earliest years. I had been saying
that it hardly mattered to me now, the pain,
what I minded was—say there was
a god—of love—and I’d given—I had meant
to give—my life—to it—and I
had failed, well I could just suffer for that—
but what, if I,
had harmed, love? I howled this out,
and on my glasses the salt water pooled, almost
sweet to me, then, because it was named,
the worst thing—and once it was named,
I knew there was no god of love, there were only
people. And my friend reached over,
to where my fists clutched each other,
and the back of his hand rubbed them, a second,
with clumsiness, with the courtesy
of no eros, the homemade kindness.

Sharon Olds is the author of several books of poetry, including “The Dead and the Living,” winner of the 1983 National Book Critics Circle Award; “The Unswept Room,” a finalist for the 2002 National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and “Stag’s Leap,” which was published this year. She teaches in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at New York University.

We’ll have a profile of Olds on the NewsHour soon.