Favorite Poem of the Week–“Little Things” by Sharon Olds

Yesterday was my first day back to school, and in one of my classes, my professor read this poem. I have always loved Sharon Olds’s poetry, though it is often very painful. It is brave, truth-telling poetry. It has been a long time since a poem made me cry. And this one did it for me. The last few lines are what hit me: “I am doing something I learned early to do, I am / paying attention to small beauties, / whatever I have—as if it were our duty to / find things to love, to bind ourselves to this world.”

Life is so full of sorrows and frustrations and anxieties. I have been full of them over the last year or so, much more than is characteristic for me. But Oh! those small joys. I also gather them as if it is my duty. I always have. Paying attention to deadlines and important conversations and details and the biggies of life has often been hard for me. I learned early, though, the art of “paying attention to small beauties.” My life is most joyful when I attend to the task as if it were a duty, as if I am collecting the marvelous things that make me fall in love with life, that bind me to this world. Writing my own poetry is a way of capturing these beauties and passing them on.

Little Things
by SHARON OLDS

After she’s gone away to camp, in the early

evening I clear Liddy’s breakfast dishes

from the rosewood table, and find a small

crystallized pool of maple syrup, the

grains standing there, round, in the night, I

rub it with my fingertip

as if I could read it, this raised dot of

amber sugar, and this time

when I think of my father, I wonder why

I think of my father, of the beautiful blood-red

glass in his hand, or his black hair gleaming like a

broken-open coal. I think I learned to

love the little things about him

because of all the big things

I could not love, no one could, it would be wrong to.

So when I fix on this tiny image of resin

or sweep together with the heel of my hand a

pile of my son’s sunburn peels like

insect wings, where I peeled his back the night before camp,

I am doing something I learned early to do, I am

paying attention to small beauties,

whatever I have—as if it were our duty to

find things to love, to bind ourselves to this world.

Source: The American Poetry Review Volume 14 Number 6

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