The Cost of Bread by Alan Walowitz

The Cost of Bread

I’d come home from school some days
to find Harold Dugan from the bakery truck
taking a spin on my mother’s old calculator.
Or for all I knew on my mother–
an old rumor that hardly matters now.
But she sure knew how to make his numbers work
as they spun out on those rolls of tape
and, times being tough, how to defray the cost of bread.
And he was a smooth talker, that Harold,
and school wasn’t done till three
and he owned his route
and he made his own time.

My mother kept books her whole life–
in her head and with a careful hand–
but now the numbers spin all over the page
and she can’t pin them down.
When the doctor asks her to draw a clock,
it looks like a scrambled egg,
the numbers floating in and out of the shell.
Draw three o’clock, the doctor orders,
and she says it’s too early for lunch.
I tell her, Ma, we already ate
and my mother informs me—and for my own good—
she can eat any time she damn well pleases.

by Alan Walowitz

Editor’s Note: Freedom of thought is stolen from those whose minds fail with age, but in this poem, that freedom still lingers. The close of this poem reopens the beginning, but not in any way that comforts the narrator.

6 thoughts on “The Cost of Bread by Alan Walowitz

  1. I particularly relate to this poem as my father worked for Dugan Brothers for many years, not as a driver, but in the plant itself. I have Dugan Brothers in a few of my poems, one way or another. Most recently I wrote “Death by Bread” as I think his time on the job contributed to his death. Those days of door to door delivery of milk and bread were not so blemish free. I love the history in this poem and the sadness.


    • Thanks, Judy. I’m happy someone remembers Dugan’s–pretty sure it was a NY thing–though I’m so sorry it’s associated with your father’s death. We referred to him as Harold Dugan because we didn’t really know his last name. I’d love to see the poems you mention. You can find me on Facebook.


      • I don’t remember Dugan’s Bread, but I do remember a “Harold” type guy. But, Alan, there’s no need to apologize. It’s probably all in my mind. I enjoyed this poem.


  2. Nice clean poem… I liked ‘taking a spin on my mother’ took me all kinds of places… thinking of your mother as a young woman, how time passes, how we grow old… that the old were actually young once… and we are on our way… think about your relationship with your past that is so alive in you. Nice play on words.. it’s like the poem scrambled itself as it progressed. I enjoyed this poem too.


  3. Alan,
    Thanks for CLUTTERING my inbox. I’ve only been getting SPAM lately and your Poem was a refreshing change. I do remember the Dugan Truck, but I always thought that AFFAIRS in the afternoon were with the Mailman.
    This was the most enjoyable Poem I’ve read all day!


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