Read a Childhood Poem by David Foster Wallace

Slate's Culture Blog
April 14 2011 9:22 AM

Read a Childhood Poem by David Foster Wallace

While researching a piece on the David Foster Wallace collection at the University of Texas's Harry Ransom Center, writer Justine Tal Goldberg discovered a gem in the archives: a mournful bit of verse written by a young Wallace, "presumably for a grade-school class."

The sheet of composition paper (which you can see in all its handwritten glory on Goldberg's site ) reads:


David. My moth-
er Works So hard
So hard and for bread she needs some lard
She bakes the bread. And makes
the bed. And when she's
threw she Feels she's dayd


Goldberg offers a pretty convincing reading of the poem, noting Wallace's uncommonly mature phrasings and his "ear for spoken language." She even brought the poem to a psychoanalyst, who also sensed that young Wallace had been listening carefully to his mother's words : the line "she Feels she's dayd" perhaps echoing his mother's own complaint of being "dead tired." The doctor goes on to explain, in Goldberg's words, that:

from a psychoanalytic perspective, this poem smacks of loneliness. In third person narration, Wallace observes his mother attending to her work, and wonders if she has energy enough to attend to him; he observes his mother in a state of physical exhaustion, and wonders if her capacity for affection has been exhausted as well. After all the housework making the bed and baking the bread will she have anything left for him?

If this is the case, consider the symbolic implications of dead: separate, detached, absent, unavailable. In the simplest terms, feeling dead means not feeling alive.

And what were your elementary school poems about?

Elsewhere in Slate : Read the words David Foster Wallace underlined in his dictionary , courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center. 

Follow  Brow Beat on Twitter . For more culture coverage, like  Slate  Culture  on Facebook.  



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10


Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.