Sharon Olds completes her cycle of family poems in a book at once intense and harmonic, playful with language, and rich with a new self-awareness and sense of irony.
The opening poem, with its sequence of fearsome images of war, serves as a prelude to poems of home in which humour, anger, and compassion sing together with lyric energy - sometimes comic, sometimes filled with a kind of unblinking forgiveness. These songs of joy and danger - public and private - illuminate one another. As the book unfolds, the portrait of the mother goes through a moving revision, leading us to a final series of elegies of hard-won mourning. One Secret Thing is charged throughout with Sharon Olds's characteristic passion, imagination, and poetic power.
The doctor on the phone was young, maybe on his first rotation in the emergency room. On the ancient boarding-school radio, in the attic hall, the announcer had given my boyfriend's name as one of two brought to the hospital after the sunrise service, the egg-hunt, the crash - one of them critical, one of them dead. I was looking at the stairwell banisters, at their lathing, the necks and knobs like joints and bones, the varnish here thicker here thinner - I had said Which one of them died, and now the world was an ant's world: the huge crumb of each second thrown, somehow, up onto my back, and the young, tired voice said my fresh love's name.