In Sharon Olds’ poem “Summer Solstice, New York City”, a point is made about the existence of technology and its close link to the sustainability of a human life. Technology, both in the form of “iron stairs through the roof of the building” upon which the man is standing and in the form of “tiny campfires we lit at night / back at the beginning of the world”, allows this man the opportunity to either escape from life or rediscover a vital human connection which enables him to keep on living. The “tiny campfires”, which is arguably a form of primitive technology, allowed the people “at the beginning of the world” to sustain their lives and give birth to generations and nations of humans. This same evolving technology led to the construction of the very building which this man thought to jump off of, thus ending his life and a generation of people after him.
Technology is crucial for the sustainability of human beings by creating advancements in the quality of life which leads to a greater of humans and healthier humans. But no matter how closely linked technology is to the human condition, however, at the end of the poem, it is ultimately not technology that leads to the revitalization of this man’s life. Neither the tiny campfires nor the technology that created the building or even the “huge machinery of the earth” induce life in this man. It is rather the irreplacable, inconceivable human chemistry that ultimately rehabilitates this man’s recovery from his attempted suicide. The poet invokes images of motherhood when she mistakenly thinks “they were going to beat him up, as a mother whose child has been lost will scream at the child when it’s found”. A parallel can be drawn between the man as a child who was lost in the chaotic world of technology and is now found by reestablishing vital human connections. Olds describes how “they took him by the arms and held him up”, illustrating human love, warmth, and affection. These are emotions that can only be felt by human interaction and cannot be reproduced through any sort of technology. These are the man-made (or even God-made, if you want to stretch it that far) emotions and connections that allow this man to rediscover his life and continue living.