A Poem about Parents, Family, Sex, and Life

I never had children. I guess it was not in the cards though I fear it was merely a lack of faith, a lack of faith in the Universe and in God and confidence in myself and my wife, though mainly myself. I guess I thought too much about it and I always remember what Hamlet said about his own tendency to think too much, saying that if this pensiveness were “quartered, it would be one part wisdom and three parts cowardice.”

Here is a beautiful poem by Sharon Olds as she conjectures about her own conception, eloquently describing her parents meeting in college, the story of their life together, the doubts and fears of their marriage, and the sexual union which produced herself. Olds’ image of coitus is just stunningly beautiful, consummately poetic.

I Go Back to May 1937

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips black in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don’t do it–she’s the wrong woman,
he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don’t do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips like chips of flint as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

7 thoughts on “A Poem about Parents, Family, Sex, and Life

    1. literary lew Post author

      Interesting. And, after an initial pause, I agree. In my case, I think it is because it is frustrating to realize that our life is inextricably wrapped up in the whims and fancies of our parents, and of others in general, that I am not completely autonomous. The unfolding of life preceded me and that “life” (which was palpable in some sense) shaped me fundamentally.


  1. Sandeep Bhalla

    As regard your introduction, I have not met any person who lived and had no regrets. Who said “to think is nothing but sorrow”. The mind like tongue always licks the broken tooth or pain. Those who have children are regreting that they could not raise them with right values. We are all in an ocean of pain and regret.


    1. literary lew Post author

      Yes, there is a lot of “pain and regret” out there. I swim in it occasionally and used to a whole lot. That ugliness is always there for me, beckoning, but I try to focus on the beauty that is always around me….somewhat, anyway. I don’t think we should try to blot out the ugliness but just not allow it to drown us and beauty is here as an alternative focus.



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