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Alicia Ostriker

Author Bio

Alicia Ostriker

Alicia Ostriker’s fifteenth collection of poetry is The Book of Life: Selected Jewish Poems 1979-2011. Her most recent prose collection is For the Love of God: The Bible as an Open Book. She teaches in the Drew University Low-Residency MFA Program in Poetry and Poetry translation.

My Dead Friend

My dead friend used to say
when she reached menopause
the swamp cleared from her mind

the sun shone brightly
for the first time since girlhood
she could think clearly

Things were outlined as if in lights
a dog was a dog and a man
was only a man

*

Lain in the arms
of Eros you relax you blur
you have no will of your own

almost anything
can make you tingle with delight
music art nature kisses touch

the wetness the throbbing
every glance a sort of soft bullet she said

*

Now when I look at my body
under the spell of gravity
I have to laugh

Oh my the way we all lined up
like a fleet of taxis at a red light
just waiting and racing our motors

what a joke sex is but without it
there would be no children
no human glue

*

Oh my god what a fool
I made of myself
all those years

well we all did
we were like those lab mice
that will step on the pedal

that gives them those thrills
not eating not stopping
until they die

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 81, No. 1 (Spring 2007), pp. 68-69

Author Comment

“Let me introduce myself: I am an unashamed woman poet. Unashamed to be a woman, unashamed to be a poet. I have been writing about women’s issues for almost 50 years. I’ve written about marriage, pregnancy and childbirth, motherhood, and violence. I’ve written anti-war protests—and I believe that although both men and women can oppose war, the opposition of mothers to war is particularly intense, because we are the ones who bring life into the world. I’ve written about rape. I’ve written about having a mastectomy and recovering from it. Much of my writing wrestles with religion, and with the tyrannical male God made in men’s image. But “My Dead Friend” isn’t about any of these things. It is about sex—from the point of view of a woman long past menopause. After the poem appeared in Prairie Schooner, it was included in a volume of my poems called The Book of Seventy. So you can guess my age.

“At this point in my life, I ought to have some wisdom. But what is wisdom, when it comes to sex? The poem looks at the question from a number of angles. From the perspective of a post-menopausal woman, the friend of the title, sex is a kind of mental miasma; a woman can think clearly only when she has left it behind. With sex out of the picture, “a man is only a man,” implying perhaps that he was a god before that—or that all a woman wants is to “catch a man.” For isn’t it true that in many societies a woman without a man is considered worthless?

“The poem’s second section evokes the memory of sensuality, and how Eros—who is a God, after all, the God of Love—deprives you of will power, but makes everything in one’s life more delightful.

“The third section sees the comedy in all this. A ‘body/ under the spell of gravity’ is an aging body. The flesh is drooping, and there is a pun on ‘gravity’ and ‘grave.’ We are all on the way to the grave. But remembering the past can still make you laugh, and laughing is the opposite of ‘gravity’ in another of its meanings. Our past selves were so keen on sex, and look so ridiculous in retrospect. Sex is a joke precisely because we are so absurdly driven by it, and so disappointed by it most of the time.

“And yet where would the world be without children? Without the ‘human glue’ that it produces in society?

“The final stanza reminds us that we are, after all, just animals. No matter how we glorify ourselves and our impulses and emotions, we are biological creatures driven by instincts. I hope the poem reveals that women can love sex as addictively as men do, and also that the addiction can fade. Nor is it an accident that this poem begins and ends with death—another absolute presence in our lives.”