The Try-Outs Poem By Sharon Olds

The Try-Outs Poem By Sharon Olds


“Rat! Torturing my BRAIN!” is the aria
my mother sang, trying out to be a singer
in a downtown theater. All month, she had practiced,
“Rat!” leaping out in sharp coloratura
from that mouth that drew back from kissing my father,

her mouth I kissed as if it were sacred,

“Rat!” suddenly in the pantry, then the pause, then
torturing and my run together in a
slurred mutter, then that radical, stridulating
high, off-key note, “BRAIN!”

—this was how a woman tried
to enter the world, Rat torturing my
brain vacuuming, rat torturing my
brain doing the dishes, atonal
shriek like choir gone wrong, or as if
the housework, itself, screamed, matter
and dirt-on-matter squealing, the dust-rings of
Saturn grating on each other. Backstage,

the folds of a massive curtain, and the mothers were
going behind its lank volutes,

one by one, and trying out,

Rat torturing my brain, I could tell
my mother by her pitch, about an eighth of an
inch below the note, and by
the way my skin tightened, and rose, and I
cried, when she sang. I would stop making
the paper Easter basket, and shudder
till another mother sang. At least I thought they were all mothers,
those grown-up women, although I was the only
child, there, cutting strips of
construction paper in the bad light
down at the base of the blackout aurora,

cloak of a potentate, where you wait
to be born, where your mother prays to be famous.

I never wondered just how the rat,
tortured her brain, I cut out bunnies and,
chickens and stood them up inside a basket
by bending them hard at the ankles, and taping
their feet to the floor. My jaws moved
with the scissors, chewing—it was a sort
of eating, that making, a having by pouring
forth, hearing from the dark the soprano
off-key cries of my kind.

Sharon Olds
from Blood, Tin, Straw

The Try-Outs Poem By Sharon Olds

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