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Reading poetry with Amelia: The First Thanksgiving

By Amelia Alexander
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This is the first in a series of columns by Ada student Amelia Alexander about "reading and debriefing" poetry. 

“First Thanksgiving” by Sharon Olds

When she comes back, from college, I will see
the skin of her upper arms, cool,
matte, glossy. She will hug me, my old
soupy chest against her breasts,
I will smell her hair! She will sleep in this apartment,
her sleep like an untamed, good object,
like a soul in a body. She came into my life the
second great arrival, after him, fresh
from the other world—which lay, from within him,
within me. Those nights, I fed her to sleep,
week after week, the moon rising,
and setting, and waxing—whirling, over the months,
in a slow blur, around our planet.
Now she doesn’t need love like that, she has
had it. She will walk in glowing, we will talk,
and then, when she’s fast asleep, I’ll exult
to have her in that room again,
behind that door! As a child, I caught
bees, by the wings, and held them, some seconds,
looked into their wild faces,
listened to them sing, then tossed them back
into the air—I remember the moment the
arc of my toss swerved, and they entered
the corrected curve of their departure.

Summary and Analysis 
Upon the recent Thanksgiving break and the upcoming holiday season, I have decided to present this work by Sharon Olds. This poem explores a mother-daughter relationship from the perspective of the mother. She expands on this relationship dynamic by writing about how it feels to see her daughter back home again for her child’s first Thanksgiving as an adult. 

Olds delves into the early days of her relationship with her daughter. She explains how she feels like time has flown since then. She recognizes that her daughter has grown to the age where she is not in need of that kind of nurturing anymore. This thought reminds the speaker of bees. Specifically how she used to grab them by their wings, look at their wild faces, and then release them. In this metaphor, her daughter is the bee. When she releases her daughter, her daughter is free to go in her own direction, even if that is different from where her mother had pointed her.

Personal feelings about the work
This poem made me a bit teary-eyed the first time I read it. I do not think it is supposed to be a very sad poem. It is a bit melancholy, but I get the impression that Olds just loves her daughter and is reflecting on their relationship. Despite that it is not inherently sad it made me emotional because this is my last Thanksgiving in high school. Next year I will come home for Thanksgiving break for the first time. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas is when I get to spend the most time with my family. This time of year has become more and more sacred as I get older. This poem reminds me to be grateful for my family and the bonds and connections that I will have for life. This poem reminds me of the inevitable passage of time, and how that changes things, for better or for worse.

I hope you enjoyed reading and debriefing some poetry with me!