In ‘Take the I Out’, Olds reminds us of the shapeshifting quality of the immediate and personal. The similarity between personal identity and I-shaped steel quickly comes together when the speaker discusses creation: “they poured pig iron / into the mold and it fed out slowly, / a bending jelly in the bath, and it hardened.” Just like metal that’s malleable before fully solid, our early identities are shaped and shifted by environment. Yet individuals don’t always get the same rigor of planning and consistency as a factory-made product, namely because we don’t have a set path. We’re often pulled in many directions and poured into molds that don’t fully brace or sustain us. It feels silly to be envious of an inanimate object, yet proper nurture can be a deep form of love that honors our specific ways of being over pushing us to thrive in the general fray. We continue with this thread: “I love the I, / frail between its flitches, its hard ground / and hard sky.” The I is vulnerable in its growth since at any moment, walls gird and collapse the space given for growth. Notice how all the surroundings are defined by their lack of yielding, reminding us that the contained won’t affect the premade form.
It’s easy to sympathize with the I as it slinks into existence, as it becomes brace for bigger projects, the small whole lining the universe. When we arrive at the father’s “metal sweat” that’s “sweet in the morning” and “sour in the evening”, it feels fair this object that can pull a whole architectural world into proper orbit overtakes him, its scent lingering in the homespace. Once we settle into this familial unit, we even catch a glimpse of an intimate moment of parenthood: “the night they made me, the penciled / slope of her temperature rising, and on / the peak of the hill, first soldier to reach / the crest, the Roman numeral I-- / I, I, I, I”. As we chart through their combined pleasure, the I abides more as essence than tangible. It becomes an intertwining that can’t yet be extracted. Again, it has to construct real presence. Yet even those I’s that have maintained stature beyond their molds don’t have sure luck: “The I is a pine, / resinous, flammable root to crown, / which throws its cones as far as it can in a fire.”
The I trying to replicate itself, even in the last moments of its existence, is such a human impulse: bury even the smallest shard of yourself in fresh ground in the hopes that a new shoot will spring up. This feels like somewhat of a deathwish since you now have no control over your progeny, yet isn’t this heady sense of faith in our presence being felt what keeps us moving towards connection and creation at all?