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The Easel


By Sharon Olds

When I build a fire, I feel purposeful –
proud I can unscrew the wing nuts
from off the rusted bolts, dis-
assembling one of the things my ex
left when he left right left. And laying its
narrow, polished, maple angles
across the kindling, providing for updraft –
good. Then by flame-light I see: I am burning
his med-school easel. How can that be,
after the hours and hours – all told, maybe
weeks, a month of stillness – modelling
for him, our first years together,
odour of acrylic, stretch of treated
canvas. I am burning his left-behind craft,
he who was the first to turn
our family, naked, into art.
What if someone had told me, thirty
years ago: If you give up, now,
wanting to be an artist, he might
love you all your life – what would I
have said? I didn't even have an art,
it would come from out of our family's life –
what could I have said: nothing will stop me.

• From Stag's Leap by Sharon Olds (Cape Poetry, £10) To order a copy for £8 with free UK p&p go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop

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