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The Language of the Brag and The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters

Sharon Olds’s “The Language of the Brag” and Bernadette Mayer’s “The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters” are exuberant, boisterous tributes to motherhood. Both poets join host Elisa New, actor Donna Lynne Champlin, writer Emily Oster, activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, obstetrician Lorna Wilkerson, and co-founders of Our Bodies Ourselves to explore the miracle, and mess, of creating new life.

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The Language of the Brag and The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters

The Language of the Brag 

by Sharon Olds

 

I have wanted excellence in the knife-throw,

I have wanted to use my exceptionally strong and accurate arms

and my straight posture and quick electric muscles

to achieve something at the center of a crowd,

the blade piercing the bark deep,

the haft slowly and heavily vibrating like the cock.

 

I have wanted some epic use for my excellent body,

some heroism, some American achievement

beyond the ordinary for my extraordinary self,

magnetic and tensile, I have stood by the sandlot

 and watched the boys play.

 

I have wanted courage, I have thought about fire

and the crossing of waterfalls, I have dragged around

 

my belly big with cowardice and safety,

stool charcoal from the iron pills,

huge breasts leaking colostrum,

legs swelling, hands swelling,

face swelling and reddening, hair

falling out, inner sex

stabbed and stabbed again with pain like a knife.

I have lain down.

 

 

I have lain down and sweated and shaken

and passed blood and shit and water and

slowly alone in the center of a circle I have

passed the new person out

and they have lifted the new person free of the act

and wiped the new person free of that

language of blood like praise all over the body.

 

I have done what you wanted to do, Walt Whitman,

Allen Ginsberg, I have done this thing,

I and the other women this exceptional

act with the exceptional heroic body,

this giving birth, this glistening verb,

and I am putting my proud American boast

right here with the others.

CREDIT: ”The Language of the Brag” from Satan Says by Sharon Olds, © 1980. Aired by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

From The Desires Of Mothers To Please Others in Letters

 

Public Lice 

p.23

I only worry all the time, I worry about my cervix, I worry about my uterus, my ovaries, my pleasant vagina

 

I must admit the next time this happens to me I’m going to freak out,

 

Under My Green Jacket 

p.58

… the way I knew I was pregnant was it wasn’t fun to get drunk anymore,

 

The Well of Loneliness 

p.64

… the thing I resent most is when someone says you won’t have time to write if you have a family.

 

Eine Kleine Nacht Musik 

p.70

Now that I’m a mother my chances are better for sainthood they say,

 

The Notch at the Flume of the Gorge 

p.147

I did wish to be a man, it was better to be one. Imagine knowing you could not bear children but could conceive them and they were your own still. What fun! I’d go around conceiving them every chance I got.

 

Visions or Desolation 

p.238

I wish I could try it as a man for once and be the one watching nervously instead of the inhabitant of this always female body,

 

p.239

… when the baby is finally born you don’t know for a moment if you’re thinking of yourself or the other,

 

Portrait of a Man Holding a Glove

p.253 

… my mother said I ought to want to have children but she also said you ought not to do any [screwing] fucking and she said it was sex and her children that caused her disease,

 

Accidental On 

p.270

IT FINALLY GETS AROUND to the fact there isn’t any special breathing you do in labor like duck á l’orange …, it’s labor and you generally pant the midwife said, she said a woman who’d been to some fancy classes wound up saying “out” for fourteen hours, the mantra out.

  

The Physiology of Taste

p.287

I can’t pretend to be able to account for how anybody else feels when a baby is born, but there is the baby … fraught with the tenderness of the state of the womb, visible and unclothed in the light, about to be wrapped and nursed, there is nothing else like it.

 

p.288

… the baby is a person and it is outside of you and it does turn out to be he or she … and it will be called that, Max or Violet or Joe and not just “the baby”…

 

SHAKING THE SHEET 

p.311

It seems like I’ve been in labor now three or four weeks, last night I had contractions for five hours winding up with the best one at 2 am,

 

TEN YEARS TILL THE NEXT BEER

p.312

At least nobody can be saying about giving birth, don’t take it so seriously

 

 

 

 

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The Language of the Brag 

by Sharon Olds

 

I have wanted excellence in the knife-throw,

I have wanted to use my exceptionally strong and accurate arms

and my straight posture and quick electric muscles

to achieve something at the center of a crowd,

the blade piercing the bark deep,

the haft slowly and heavily vibrating like the cock.

 

I have wanted some epic use for my excellent body,

some heroism, some American achievement

beyond the ordinary for my extraordinary self,

magnetic and tensile, I have stood by the sandlot

 and watched the boys play.

 

I have wanted courage, I have thought about fire

and the crossing of waterfalls, I have dragged around

 

my belly big with cowardice and safety,

stool charcoal from the iron pills,

huge breasts leaking colostrum,

legs swelling, hands swelling,

face swelling and reddening, hair

falling out, inner sex

stabbed and stabbed again with pain like a knife.

I have lain down.

 

 

I have lain down and sweated and shaken

and passed blood and shit and water and

slowly alone in the center of a circle I have

passed the new person out

and they have lifted the new person free of the act

and wiped the new person free of that

language of blood like praise all over the body.

 

I have done what you wanted to do, Walt Whitman,

Allen Ginsberg, I have done this thing,

I and the other women this exceptional

act with the exceptional heroic body,

this giving birth, this glistening verb,

and I am putting my proud American boast

right here with the others.

CREDIT: ”The Language of the Brag” from Satan Says by Sharon Olds, © 1980. Aired by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

From The Desires Of Mothers To Please Others in Letters

 

Public Lice 

p.23

I only worry all the time, I worry about my cervix, I worry about my uterus, my ovaries, my pleasant vagina

 

I must admit the next time this happens to me I’m going to freak out,

 

Under My Green Jacket 

p.58

… the way I knew I was pregnant was it wasn’t fun to get drunk anymore,

 

The Well of Loneliness 

p.64

… the thing I resent most is when someone says you won’t have time to write if you have a family.

 

Eine Kleine Nacht Musik 

p.70

Now that I’m a mother my chances are better for sainthood they say,

 

The Notch at the Flume of the Gorge 

p.147

I did wish to be a man, it was better to be one. Imagine knowing you could not bear children but could conceive them and they were your own still. What fun! I’d go around conceiving them every chance I got.

 

Visions or Desolation 

p.238

I wish I could try it as a man for once and be the one watching nervously instead of the inhabitant of this always female body,

 

p.239

… when the baby is finally born you don’t know for a moment if you’re thinking of yourself or the other,

 

Portrait of a Man Holding a Glove

p.253 

… my mother said I ought to want to have children but she also said you ought not to do any [screwing] fucking and she said it was sex and her children that caused her disease,

 

Accidental On 

p.270

IT FINALLY GETS AROUND to the fact there isn’t any special breathing you do in labor like duck á l’orange …, it’s labor and you generally pant the midwife said, she said a woman who’d been to some fancy classes wound up saying “out” for fourteen hours, the mantra out.

  

The Physiology of Taste

p.287

I can’t pretend to be able to account for how anybody else feels when a baby is born, but there is the baby … fraught with the tenderness of the state of the womb, visible and unclothed in the light, about to be wrapped and nursed, there is nothing else like it.

 

p.288

… the baby is a person and it is outside of you and it does turn out to be he or she … and it will be called that, Max or Violet or Joe and not just “the baby”…

 

SHAKING THE SHEET 

p.311

It seems like I’ve been in labor now three or four weeks, last night I had contractions for five hours winding up with the best one at 2 am,

 

TEN YEARS TILL THE NEXT BEER

p.312

At least nobody can be saying about giving birth, don’t take it so seriously

 

 

 

 

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