1954 Poem by Sharon Olds


Rating: 3.7

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.

Heather Cameron 12 November 2010

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

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Pilar Mogollon 12 January 2009

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.

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Havilah Howard 27 November 2004

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.

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Patricia Saunders 17 March 2014

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.

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truecrimebuff 25 August 2018

I agree, I think he was innocent too. I would list all the reasons, but there is a character limit for these comments. So I will just say that whoever the real murderer was got away with it, and he destroyed the lives of and murdered both Stephanie and Burton, as well as ruined the lives of both their families. It's such a tragic case, and sadly today it is obscure and all but forgotten. But for anyone studying it in depth, it is a reminder of how flawed the justice system is.

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2. Although not based on the reality, the poem is most powerfully written.

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As a student of law, I had read about the Burton Abbot conviction. Purely on circumstancial evidence. Wrongly convicted. But, the poet has been carried away by the crime on a girl.

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Mahtab Bangalee 23 April 2020

I felt awe that dirt was so impersonal, and pity for the training bra, pity and terror of eczema......../// wonderfully written

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* Sunprincess * 11 February 2016

..............such a tragedy....monsters disguise themselves as humans everyday ★

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Wayne Kingston 30 January 2016

First read: Pile driver powerful. Makes one feel naked on a city-center corner. Thx.10/10.

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Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds

San Francisco
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