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The Los Angeles Times Book Prize, 1987 : POETRY PRIZE : On Nov . 6, The Times will award its annual Book Prizes in five categories--biography, history, fiction, poetry and current interest--along with the Robert Kirsch Award for a body of work by a writer living in or writing on the West. This week we publish excerpts from the books nominated in poetry. : THE GOLD CELL Poems by Sharon Olds (Alfred A. Knopf)

November 01, 1987

Sharon Olds' second book was both the Lamont Poetry Selection for 1983 and the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award; "The Gold Cell" is her third collection. Alcatraz

When I was a girl, I knew I was a man

because they might send me to Alcatraz

and only men went to Alcatraz.

Every time we drove to the city I'd

see it there, white as a white

shark in the shark-rich Bay, the bars like

milk-white ribs. I knew I had pushed my

parents too far, my inner badness had

spread like ink and taken me over, I could

not control my terrible thoughts,

terrible looks, and they had often said

they would send me there--maybe the

very next

time I spilled my milk, Ala

Cazam , the iron doors would slam, I'd be

there where I belonged, a girl-faced man

in the

prison no one had escaped from. I did not

fear the other prisoners,

I knew who they were, men like me who

had

spilled their milk one time too many,

not been able to curb their thoughts--

what I feared was the horror of the circles:

circle of

sky around the earth, circle of

land around the Bay, circle of

water around the island, circle of

sharks around the shore, circle of

outer walls, inner walls,

iron girders, steel bars,

circle of my cell around me, and there at

the

center, the glass of milk and the guard's

eyes upon me as I reached out for it.

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