Poem of the Week | March 10, 2010

This week, we gladly present Joe Osterhaus’ original poem “Eden.”  Osterhaus is the author of Radiance (Zoo Press) and The Domed Road (Graywolf Press, in Take Three: AGNI New Poets Series). His work has appeared most recently in Slate, The Yale Review, andThe Swallow Anthology of New American Poets. He was a Walter E. Dakin Fellow at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in 2004 and Tennessee Williams Fellow and Visiting Lecturer at the University of the South in 2005.

As a personal narrative, “Eden” rests in those crowded shallows where memory and fiction surge, in sometimes parallel, sometimes opposing, directions. While working it, I hoped the scatter in the rhyme scheme would counterpoint any arc or pattern that emerges.


Radical girl; shy daughter of a teacher;
so beautiful she stopped the cleat of shadow on
the sun dial. Lithe, proportioned by that god
who packs quick rage in beasts—I couldn’t reach her,
the bouncing betties on her halter top
not for a self-declared bohemian—
and she, hall-mirrored, knew it. Cruelty, love,
were joined by her in a long-handled scythe
that stacked male Ids like wheat, the tangled bales
and mowers mindless of what they worked with
a smear of jealousy for those who looked on, nails
bit to the quick; obsessive; seeking proof.
Promiscuous, the rumors reached her father—
collector of rare firsts, curries, and jazz—
who, having named her for a paradise
now watched her work grown men into a lather
and date the ones with money and big cars;
get high successive nights in different bars.
Trapped in the slow round of an ingénue,
she’d wave as I tipped a planter for a key
then lie back in the dapple off a pool . . .
taut, tremoring midsection streaked with oil;
tipped-back head; and sun-flocked hair aglow
with an experience not had for free.
What conversation could I have with her?
I couldn’t speak from the deep part of hope
that saw her as a balm, one I’d use to dress
an ego burnished with aggressiveness.
Like Jack LaLanne, I’d shadow box, skip rope,
and deck the linebacker who grabbed her hair.
Who was she? Twirling like a barber’s pole,
her vanities changed place with qualities
that call out still. My first experience
of separation from a shared ideal,
the breeze that raised her towel off the fence
and broke my thin composure by the trees
still comes to mind, heavy with sweat and oil.
Some night we’d catch a movie, then, on the walk home,
decide to take the long way through the park.
Where we could talk, and through the push and pull
light a connection tight as a chromosome
and cup our hands—together—round that spark.