(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Time-Travel” is a good introduction to Olds’s use of themes concerning her painful past. The title and the poem’s first sentence explain what is happening. The speaker says she has learned to return to the past in order to find doors and windows. The meaning of those apertures is made clear at the poem’s end, but the reader recognizes them already as typical means of enlarging one’s view or of escaping.

The next lines place the poem in time—a hot summer day in 1955. The setting seems to be a lake house, perhaps a vacation cabin, for it has pine walls and a splintery pine floor. The speaker says that she is looking for her father in this time travel, and her slow, deliberate tracing of her steps from small room to big (she even notes the doorway she passes through) suggests the elaborate care, perhaps because of fear or uncertainty, that she is using in this search. When she finds him, it is as if she stumbles over something inert lying on a chair.

The second stanza explains that the father is asleep, sleeping off a drinking bout. Once again, Olds leads the reader carefully through the picture, suggesting reasons for her care. She can somehow own her father, possess him, in this state. She shows him as he sleeps, newspaper comics on his stomach, plaid shirt, hands folded across his body. He looks almost dead. She describes his looks in some detail, but all of his physical characteristics are dependent on the central thing she has explained—that this “solid secret body” is “where he puts the bourbon.” The care with which she has searched for him is partly...

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Time-Travel Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Dillon, Brian. “’Never Having Had You, I Cannot Let You Go.’” The Literary Review 37 (Fall, 1993): 108-119.

Kirsch, Adam. “The Exhibitionist.” The New Republic 221 (December 27, 1999): 38.

Lesser, Rika. “Knows Father Best.” The Nation 255 (December 14, 1992): 748-750.

McGiveron, Rafeeq. “Olds’s ’Sex Without Love.’” The Explicator 58 (Fall, 1999): 60.

“Sharon Olds.” The Writer 114 (April, 2001): 66.

Swiontkowski, Gale. Imagining Incest: Sexton, Plath, Rich, and Olds on Life with Daddy. Selinsgrove, Pa.: Susquehanna University Press, 2003.

Tucker, Ken. “Family Ties.” The New York Times Book Review 104 (November 14, 1999): 29.

Wineapple, Brenda. “I Have Done This Thing.” Poetry 185 (December, 2004): 232-237.

Zeider, Lisa. Review of The Father, by Sharon Olds. The New York Times Book Review, March 21, 1993, 14.