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. 

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