Ode to the Hymen

I don’t know when you came into being,

inside me, when I was inside my mother-

maybe when the involuntary

muscles were setting, like rose jello.

I love to think of you then, so whole, so

impervious, you and the clitoris as

safe as the lives in which you were housed, they would have

had to kill both my mother and me

to get at either of you. I love her, at this

moment, as the big fortress around me, the

matronhead around the sweetmeat

of my maidenhead. I don’t know who

invented you-to keep a girl’s inwards

clean and well-cupboarded. Dear wall,

dear gate, dear stile, dear Dutch door, not a

cat-flap nor a swinging door

but a one-time piñata. How many places in the

body were made to be destroyed

once? You were very sturdy, weren’t you,

you took your job seriously-I’d never

felt such pain-you were the hourglass lady

the magician saws in two. I was proud of you,

turning to a cupful of the bright arterial

ingredient. And how lucky we were,

you and I, that we got to choose

when, and with whom, and where, and why-plush

pincushion, somehow related

to statues that wept. It happened on the rug

of a borrowed living room, but I felt

as if we were in Diana’s woods-

he, and I, and you, together,

or as if we were where the magma from the core of the

earth burst up through the floor of the sea.

Thank you for your life and death,

thank you for your flower-girl walk

before me, throwing down your scarlet

petals. It would be years before

I married-years before I carried, within me,

a tiny, baby hymen, near the

eggs with other teentsy hymens

within them-but you unscrolled the carpet,

leading me into the animal life

of a woman. You were a sort of blood

mother to me: first you held me

close, for eighteen years, and then

you let me go.

from Odes (Knopf, 2016), © Sharon Olds 2016, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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