A Year into the Depression

Sarah Gordon Click to

Sarah Gordon, the author of Flannery O’Connor: The Obedient Imagination and A Literary Guide to Flannery O’Connor’s Georgia, is a prolific poet in her retirement, publishing work most recently in Sewanee Review, The Georgia Review, Shenandoah, and Carolina Quarterly. She won second prize in the William Matthews Poetry Contest sponsored by Asheville Poetry Review.

Father sold the horses,
grumbling, Fewer bellies to fill.
Their lives for ours, you know.
We were openmouthed screeching
baby birds, all appetite and sound,
and we knew we had to amount
to something, to make it worth
the swap. We soon learned

our life’s lesson, that something
is always being swapped
for something else, bartered
or exchanged: a slingshot
for a sack of jacks, a kingdom
for a horse, a hand
on your leg under the table
for a vow, the means for the end.
Our father loved a deal.

What will you give me for that,
he’d ask, a light in his menacing
eye, how much you want it, what
you got to offer?
No matter how few
marbles you’d saved in your small
cache, he’d try to trade, all the time
teaching you that nothing has value
unless another wants it, that desire
is all, the endless swap, getting
the goods, stacking them up,
pulling one out from time to time
to dust it off, admire it again,
or not. Maybe time to trade.

It’s the art of the deal, Esau’s
bargain, the mess of pottage.
But Father wouldn’t learn that.
Over the years, he gave his life
for smokes and drink, the blustery
bid, the tasteless joke, the chance
to be the big man in a small place,
betraying his schooling, his prayers,
and his prosperous children, who dared
not hold out their empty hands to him,
dared not entreat that bankrupt heart.


5 Responses to A Year into the Depression

  1. This is so powerful. History made palpable. It’s all in there. I can see it, hear it, feel it. “desire is all”.

  2. John R. Dennis says:

    Quite wonderful, from opening to concluding stanza. How each of us well knows, “all appetite and sound.” Yet how else could we be?–and what else could he do save trade the horses: a deal he bargained for as, redemptively, he must have (I pray!) wanted the “ours,” the “we’s,” or at least something anyway in that initial quid pro quo. Alas, as the poet writes, “. . . we knew we had to amount/to something, to make it/worth the swap,” a tit for a tat; when it’s all Economics 101, capitalism, nothing but want with love removed from desire’s problematic equation. (I am reminded of Nikki Giovanni’s “Balances”.) Each stanza, each line, rich and full in its paring. My musings cannot do this piece justice. A fine work.

  3. This is an excellent poem, a poem that I read from start to finish without stopping, then read again, and once again…and will again. This poem expresses the poet’s own truth…an absolute necessity for the writer. To express one’s own view of one’s own world is the writer’s obligation.

  4. Jane Fuller says:

    Wish I’d written this. 🙂

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