Ed Dorn, “On the Debt My Mother Owed Sears Roebuck”

18 May

As promised, here’s the text of the most famous poem I can think of that isn’t easily found on the internet. Maybe I’ll get a cease and desist letter and find out why it’s so hard to find this poem…



Summer was dry, dry the garden
our beating hearts, on that farm, dry
with the rows of corn, the grasshoppers
came happily to strip, in hordes, the first
things I knew about locust was they came
dry under the foot like the breaking of
a mechanical bare heart with collapses
from an unkind an incessant word whispered
in the house of the major farmer
and the catalogue company,
from no fault of anyone
my father coming home tired
and grinning down the road, turning in
is the tank full? thinking of the horse
and my lazy arms thinking of the water
so far below the well platform.

On the debt my mother owed to sears roebuck
we brooded, she in the house, a little heavy
from too much corn meal, she
a little melancholy from the dust of the fields
in her eye, the only title she ever had to lands–
and man’s ways winged their way to her through the mail
saying so much per month
so many months, this is yours, take it
take it, take it, take it
and in the corncrib, like her lives in that house
the mouse nibbled away at the cob’s yellow grain
until six o’clock when her sorrows grew less
and my father came home

On the debt my mother owed sears roebuck?
I have nothing to say, it gave me clothes to
wear to school,
and my mother brooded
in the rooms of the house, the kitchen, waiting
for the men she knew, her husband, her son
from work, from school, from the air of locusts
and dust masking the hedges of fields she knew
in her eye as a vague land where she lived,
boundaries, whose tractors chugged pulling harrows
pulling disks, pulling great yields from the earth
pulse for the armies in two hemispheres, 1943
and she was part of that stay at home army to keep
things going, owing that debt.


The text comes from the Grey Fox edition of Dorn’s Selected Poems, pp. 25-6.


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