How It Felt

Even if I still had the clothes I wore,
those first twelve years, even if I had
the clothes I would take off before my mother
climbed the stairs toward me: the glassy
Orlon sweater; the cotton dress,
under its smocking my breasts-to-be
accordion-folded under the skin of my chest;
even if I had all the sashes,
even if I had all the cotton
underwear, like a secret friend,
I think I could not get back to how
it felt. I study the stability
of the spirit — was it almost I who came back
out of each punishment,
back to a self which had been waiting, for me,
in the cooled-off pile of my clothes? As for the
condition of being beaten, what
was it like: going into a barn, the animals
not in stalls, but biting, and shitting, and
parts of them on fire? And when my body came out
the other side, and I checked myself,
10 fingers, 10 toes,
and I checked whatever I had where we were
supposed to have a soul, I hardly dared
to know what I knew,
that though I had been taken down,
again, hammer and tongs, valley
and range, down to the ground of my being
and under that ground, it was possible
that in my essence, at the center of my essence, in some
tiny chamber my mother could not
enter — or did not enter — I had not been changed.

More Poems by Sharon Olds