Sharon Olson

April 3, 2008 at 1:47 pm (Uncategorized) ()

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The Concert, by Vermeer

Imagine the man who stole this painting.
He sees himself seated between the two women,
his face averted, safely hidden:
the woman to his right, older, his wife;
the woman at the keyboard, younger, not his wife.
The painting reminds him of possibilities,
the three of them seated there,
no sound but music,
fragile notes emboldened by the tile floor,
and then no sound.

Thieves have paraded this canvas past the helpless guards,
past the ghost of Isabella Stewart Gardner
and the ghost of her dog, who did not bark.
Each day the new owner takes the painting from his vault.
He is learning about provenance, and theft,
how holding is not owning,
how no peace comes with power.
He hears fingers pressing the keys trying to sustain each note
past time, past the limits of memory.
When he presses one of the women close,
time passes and is gone.

The Movement of Beings

The wooden boats knock against each other in the bay.
This is the starting point for our conversation,
when we nudge each other, arm in arm.
We are walking up to St. Stephen’s church, where
the ceiling is blue, the shape of an upturned boat.
The singers try not to jostle each other when they rise.
The lap and swell of the music washes over us.

When I was eighteen, in Florence,
I used to stop at Orsanmichele on the way into town.
In one of the niches, Thomas examines the body of Christ.
First you see the drapery: Verrocchio has mastered
all the folds and curves. But then you see the way
Thomas’s foot slips off the front edge,
Christ drawing him into his circle,
Believe in me, he says to Thomas,
reach your hand here and put it into my side.

How do we learn to speak to each other?
During sleep when the heaviest thinking begins,
we roll and knock against each other,
nudge each other into dreams.
I dream you reach for me in the night.
You dream we are speaking the same language.
During the day we practice making doubt disappear.

Intermission at the Scuola di San Rocco

We both had the right idea, picking up a mirror
to study the ceiling, looking down instead of up,
and because we were taking small steps, edging
toward the middle of the room, we might have
passed each other silently in the busy hall.

Earlier that day our train broke through the Euganean Hills,
an unlikely outcropping of hopeful green.
After they were gone the fields were flat again,
only so much work the Po could do.

If a gondola can be repaired, wood scraped and repainted,
and Tintoretto can remain fresh under close inspection
by handheld mirror, and hills can stand alone when all
adjoining land is fast asleep, then words can mend,
the hasty ones we wish to gather back again, all saved
by a look from you, from me, in the Scuola di San Rocco,
exchanging colors on our walk across the room.


Sharon Olson has been spending the winter in Princeton, but normally lives in Palo Alto, California, where she worked as a cataloger and reference librarian for the Palo Alto City Library for many years before she recently retired. Her chapbook Clouds Brushed in Later won the Abby Niebauer Memorial Chapbook award in 1987, and her full-length book The Long Night of Flying was published by Sixteen Rivers Press in 2006. Her poems have appeared in Kalliope, The Seattle Review, Crab Orchard Review, and other journals and anthologies. She co-edited the volume Waverley Writers: Celebrating 25 Years 1981-2005, about a local reading group active in Palo Alto, which was published in 2007.
More information and works can be found at the Sixteen Rivers Press website and in the Red Room. She also can be heard reading her poems online at KQED’s The Writers’ Block or visit Sharon’s Blog.

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