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The Language of the Brag

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 centre 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 safely,

my stool black with iron pills,

my huge breasts oozing mucus,

my legs swelling, my hands swelling,

my face swelling and darkening, my hair

falling out, my inner sex

stabbed again and again with terrible pain like a knife.

I have lain down.


I have lain down and sweated and shaken

and passed blood and feces and water and

slowly alone in the centre 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.


From The North No 5 (1989).

'The Language of the Brag' is from SATAN SAYS by Sharon Olds. © 1980. Reproduced by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press