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Stag's Leap

10/09/2012 06:41 pm ET | Updated Dec 09, 2012

Poems come to me. In the middle of ordinary life, I will notice a line, or an image, or a story, or a memory, occurring in my mind. Then I sit down with my ballpoint and spiral notebook and start to write, in lines, not knowing where the poem will go. So whatever is on my mind -- love, loss, war, sex, death, joy, mourning or a spider in a bouquet of wildflowers -- that's what the poem will be about. Years later, when I see that I have a lot of poems clustering around a subject, I start to put a book together, looking for what I think are the best of those poems. Once I wrote the title poem of this new book, Stag's Leap, it was clear to me that there would be a book centering on the end of a long marriage -- poems of divorce, loss, longing and healing.

Stag's Leap

Then the drawing on the label of our favorite red wine
looks like my husband, casting himself off a
cliff in his fervor to get free of me.
His fur is rough and cozy, his face
placid, tranced, ruminant,
the bough of each furculum reaches back
to his haunches, each tine of it grows straight up
and branches, like a model of his brain, archaic,
unwieldy. He bears its bony tray
level as he soars from the precipice edge,
dreamy. When anyone escapes, my heart
leaps up. Even when it's I who am escaped from,
I am half on the side of the leaver. It's so quiet,
and empty, when he's left. I feel like a landscape,
a ground without a figure. Sauve
qui peut--let those who can save themselves
save themselves. Once I saw a drypoint of someone
tiny being crucified
on a fallow deer's antlers. I feel like his victim,
and he seems my victim, I worry that the outstretched
legs on the hart are bent the wrong way as he
throws himself off. Oh my mate. I was vain of his
faithfulness, as if it was
a compliment, rather than a state
of partial sleep. And when I wrote about him, did he
feel he had to walk around
carrying my books on his head like a stack of
posture volumes, or the rack of horns
hung where a hunter washes the venison
down with the sauvignon? Oh leap,
leap! Careful of the rocks! Does the old
vow have to wish him happiness
in his new life, even sexual
joy? I fear so, at first, when I still
can't tell us apart. Below his shaggy
belly, in the distance, lie the even dots
of a vineyard, its vines not blasted, its roots
clean, its bottles growing at the ends of their
blowpipes as dark, green, wavering groans.

Excerpted from Stag's Leap by Sharon Olds. Copyright © 2012 by Sharon Olds. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

STAG'S LEAP is available for purchase through several retailers including: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and independent booksellers across the country. For more information, please visit: http://www.randomhouse.com/book/219372/stags-leap-by-sharon-olds.

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