There are many poems where the images stick to me, call to me, haunt me, more so than an actual photograph ever could. This is one of those poems. In fact, Sharon Olds excels at such poems and many a haunting impression has come to me through her words. One of the things that gets me about this poem is the word "the," bringing the girl out of the ether and into reality. She wasn't just any girl. She was "the" girl to someone. To us.
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 1987