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Sharon Olds

(November 19, 1942 / San Francisco)

1954


Then dirt scared me, because of the dirt
he had put on her face. And her training bra
scared me—the newspapers, morning and evening,
kept saying it, training bra,
as if the cups of it had been calling
the breasts up—he buried her in it,
perhaps he had never bothered to take it
off. They found her underpants
in a garbage can. And I feared the word
eczema, like my acne and like
the X in the paper which marked her body,
as if he had killed her for not being flawless.
I feared his name, Burton Abbott,
the first name that was a last name,
as if he were not someone specific.
It was nothing one could learn from his face.
His face was dull and ordinary,
it took away what I’d thought I could count on
about evil. He looked thin and lonely,
it was horrifying, he looked almost humble.
I felt awe that dirt was so impersonal,
and pity for the training bra,
pity and terror of eczema.
And I could not sit on my mother’s electric
blanket anymore, I began to have a
fear of electricity—
the good people, the parents, were going to
fry him to death. This was what
his parents had been telling us:
Burton Abbott, Burton Abbott,
death to the person, death to the home planet.
The worst thing was to think of her,
of what it had been to be her, alive,
to be walked, alive, into that cabin,
to look into those eyes, and see the human


Anonymous submission.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003
# 492 poem on top 500 Poems


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  • Rookie Patricia Saunders (3/17/2014 2:33:00 AM)

    Strange thing about this poem: The accused was probably innocent. He would certainly never be convicted today based on flimsy, circumstantial evidence. Absolutely nothing connected Burton Abbott to the notorious rape and murder of this young girl. Strange, that Sharon Olds doesn't seem to know the most rudimentary facts about the case. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Heather Cameron (11/12/2010 4:43:00 PM)

    This poem always, always gets to me. Heartbreaking.
    She's an inspiration - fearless. Terrifying and painful account. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Pilar Mogollon (1/12/2009 4:33:00 AM)

    i love her, she makes me feel, she inspires me to write without fear of convential aesthetics. this poem hurts but it speaks the truth. and the fear she speaks of is palpable. i wish i could write so brilliantly. Check out my poem, Ode to Sharon Olds, in my poems posted here. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Mallory Christianson (4/19/2008 10:39:00 PM)

    What I love about Sharon Olds' poetry is that there is an honesty to it even to the point of being painful to read. This poem is stark and gorgeous but extremely painful to read. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Havilah Howard (11/27/2004 2:27:00 PM)

    Breathless. Sharon Olds always does that to me. Her poems are intense and real. They have a life of their own. This one is amazing, moving, even painful, but don't stop here. Read anything of hers you can get your hands on. (Report) Reply

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