January 18, 2013

Poetry Friday--Photographs

Sharon Olds has written some truly heartbreaking poems. This is one of them:
Photograph of the Girl

The girl sits on the hard ground,
the dry pan of Russia, in the drought
of 1921, stunned,
eyes closed, mouth open,
raw hot wind blowing
sand in her face. Hunger and puberty are
taking her together. She leans on a sack,
layers of clothes fluttering in the heat,
the new radius of her arm curved.
She cannot be not beautiful, but she is
starving. Each day she grows thinner, and her bones
grow longer, porous. The caption says
she is going to starve to death that winter
with millions of others. Deep in her body
the ovaries let out her first eggs,
golden as drops of grain.

From The Dead and the Living.
There are many photographs of the famine in Russia that took place in 1921. I wouldn't recommend looking at them. Children suffered greatly. Many did not survive.

The photograph below was taken October 10, 1921. The Library of Congress caption reads, "Two small coffins being carried on stretchers to cemetery in the Volga famine district of Bolshevist Russia."


Let me forget the child
whose body I brought into
the world and whose soul
I carry out so clumsily.

"Just walk," he says.

I look down, and watch
my step. I look down
and pray not to stumble.
I lift my foot...

"Just walk," he says.

Lord, let me lay my child
in the belly of Earth--
only She will not go
to sleep hungry tonight.

"Just walk," he says.

So I do.

© Diane Mayr, all rights reserved.
Sorry for the downer today...I hope the Round-Up at Violet Nesdoly/poems will have more cheerful poetry to share with you!


  1. Thanks Liz and Katya. Hunger still exists in many places around the world, including the US! In 2010 1 in 7 households were "food insecure," according to worldhunger.org.

  2. Hi, Diane. The line, "Hunger and puberty are
    taking her together," struck me. Your response poem is beautiful -- the opening stanza made me think of friends who have lost children, how difficult it is and how they somehow manage to keep walking.

  3. Devastating - both poems. And yet such heartache has always existed along with the cheer we all crave; and it should be honored as you have done so here. (I had the same thoughts as Laura's re. how a parent "walks" after losing a child - very striking imagery.)

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Laura, that was the line that struck me, too. As if hunger or puberty weren't bad enough.

    We all "lost" on December 14, and we must keep walking the walk for all our children.

  5. Heartbreaking, indeed. I especially liked the line, "Hunger and puberty are / taking her together" - it really sums up her plight.

  6. Yes. People just keep going because they have to. How terrible that people are still dying of hunger in this world!

  7. I was especially struck by:
    Lord, let me lay my child
    in the belly of Earth--
    only She will not go
    to sleep hungry tonight.

    I wonder about the photographers -- who were they? What's their story? Thanks for sharing these Diane.

  8. Tabatha, the photos were from Underwood and Underwood, which the Library of Congress says, "Underwood & Underwood of Washington and Chicago specialized in photographs of current events and personalities which the firm distributed as a news picture agency. The firm presented its 'stock surplus' to the Library in a series of gifts made primarily between 1922 and 1935."