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Stag’s Leap

Then the drawing on the label of our favorite red wine 
looks like my husband, casting himself off a 
cliff in his fervor to get free of me. 
His fur is rough and cozy, his face
placid, tranced, ruminant, 
the bough of each furculum reaches back 
to his haunches, each tine of it grows straight up 
and branches, like a model of his brain, archaic, 
unwieldy. He bears its bony tray 
level as he soars from the precipice edge, 
dreamy. When anyone escapes, my heart 
leaps up. Even when it’s I who am escaped from, 
I am half on the side of the leaver. It's so quiet, 
and empty, when he's left. I feel like a landscape, 
a ground without a figure. Sauve 
qui peut—let those who can save themselves 
save themselves. Once I saw a drypoint of someone 
tiny being crucified 
on a fallow deer’s antlers. I feel like his victim, 
and he seems my victim, I worry that the outstretched 
legs on the hart are bent the wrong way as he 
throws himself off. Oh my mate. I was vain of his 
faithfulness, as if it was 
a compliment, rather than a state 
of partial sleep. And when I wrote about him, did he 
feel he had to walk around 
carrying my books on his head like a stack of 
posture volumes, or the rack of horns 
hung where a hunter washes the venison 
down with the sauvignon? Oh leap, 
leap! Careful of the rocks! Does the old 
vow have to wish him happiness 
in his new life, even sexual
joy? I fear so, at first, when I still 
can’t tell us apart. Below his shaggy 
belly, in the distance, lie the even dots 
of a vineyard, its vines not blasted, its roots 
clean, its bottles growing at the ends of their 
blowpipes as dark, green, wavering groans.

—Sharon Olds

“Stag's Leap” by Sharon Olds.

Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.

By permission of the author.

Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds (1942- ) was born in San Francisco and educated at Stanford and Columbia Universities. She is the winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her collection Stag's Leap (2012). Olds' other honors include the National Book Circle Critics Award as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. From 1998 to 2000, she served as the State Poet of New York. Olds currently teaches graduate-level workshops in poetry at New York University. Photo Credit: Brett Hall Jones.

Learn more about Sharon Olds at The Poetry Foundation.