Sharon Olds’ Chamber Thicket

When I wrote about Emily Dickinson and her line about the soul selecting its own society and then shutting the door, a reader commented, “…how does one’s freedom of choice intersect with that eternal mystery, or God-directedness, of choosing a mate?” He suggested I read Sharon Olds’ “Chamber Thicket.”

I did, and here ’tis:

As we sat at the feet of the string quartet,
in their living room, on a winter night,
through the hardwood floor spurts and gulps
and tips and shudders came up, and the candle-scent
air was thick-alive with pearwood,
ebony, spruce, poplar, and horse
howled, and cat-in-heat skreeled—and then, when the
Grosse Fugue was around us, under us,
over us, in us, I felt I was hearing
the genes of my birth-family, pulled, keening
and grieving and scathing, along each other,
scraping and craving, I felt myself held in that
woods of hating longing, and I knew
and knew myself, and my parents, and their parents,
there—and then, at a distance, I sensed,
as if it were thirty years ago,
a being, far off yet, oblique-approaching,
straying toward, and then not toward,
and then toward this place, like a wandering herdsman
or lamb, my husband.  And I almost wanted
to warn him away, to call out to him
to go back whence he came, into some easier life,
but his beauty was too moving to me,
and I wanted too much to not be alone, in the
covert, anymore, and so I prayed him
come to me, I bid him hasten, and good welcome.

I love Olds’ poem, and I have often thought that we each should warn anyone who gingerly tiptoes into the realm of potential spouse of all that we come prepackaged with, genetically determined creatures that we (partially) are.  And all the places we’ve been (as in that motherly advice from my childhood, “Don’t touch that; you don’t know where it’s been!”).

I had read Dickinson in a more general sense, thinking of her reflecting on all her social options, not simply a mate.  But it does raise the question of how we select our friends and our partners, what invisible cords draw us.

What do you think?  How is it for you?

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~ by Cary on July 9, 2010.

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