“The Space Heater” by Sharon Olds
Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools, Hosted by Billy Collins, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2001-2003
The Space Heater
On the then-below-zero day, it was on, near the patients' chair, the old heater kept by the analyst's couch, at the end, like the infant's headstone that was added near the foot of my father's grave. And it was hot, with the almost laughing satire of a fire's heat, the little coils like hairs in Hell. And it was making a group of sick noises- I wanted the doctor to turn it off but I couldn't seem to ask, so I just stared, but it did not budge. The doctor turned his heavy, soft palm outward, toward me, inviting me to speak, I said, "If you're cold-are you cold? But if it's on for me..." He held his palm out toward me, I tried to ask, but I only muttered, but he said, "Of course," as if I had asked, and he stood up and approached the heater, and then stood on one foot, and threw himself toward the wall with one hand, and with the other hand reached down, behind the couch, to pull the plug out. I looked away, I had not known he would have to bend like that. And I was so moved, that he would act undignified, to help me, that I cried, not trying to stop, but as if the moans made sentences which bore some human message. If he would cast himself toward the outlet for me, as if bending with me in my old shame and horror, then I would rest on his art-and the heater purred, like a creature or the familiar of a creature, or the child of a familiar, the father of a child, the spirit of a father, the healing of a spirit, the vision of healing, the heat of vision, the power of heat, the pleasure of power.
from The New Yorker, January 22, 2001
Conde Nast, New York, NY
Copyright 2001 by Sharon Olds.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of The New Yorker, January 22, 2001. Copyright 2001 by Sharon Olds. For further permissions information, contact The New Yorker; Conde Nast Rights & Permissions, Attn: Mr. Leigh Montville, 4 Times Square, New York, NY 10036
About the Poet
Sharon Olds (1942- ) is one of contemporary poetry’s leading voices. Olds is the author of twelve poetry collections, including Stag’s Leap (Knopf, 2012), winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
Learn more about Sharon Olds at The Poetry Foundation.