Where the Groceries Went

Carver, Raymond

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice
  • Date of entry: Jul-09-1999


Narrated in the third person, the poem is a telephone conversation between an adult son and his complaining mother. This is the mother's second phone call of the day to her son, who had spent several hours shopping for groceries with her earlier that same day.

She is tired, says the mother, and there is no food in the house worth eating. Replies the son, "Did you take your iron? He wanted to know. / He sincerely wanted to know. Praying daily, / hopelessly, that iron might make a difference." Food is a touchy subject--"it never brought them anything but grief."

Later the mother frets that she is afraid, "afraid of everything. Help me, please." If her son would only help her, then he could go back to "[w]hatever / it was that was so important / I had to take the trouble / to bring you into this world."


In a brief, difficult interchange this masterful poem recreates the dynamic that may exist between a parent on the borderline of dementia and the adult child who has the responsibility, often fraught with ambivalence, of looking out for that parent. For this responsibility and caregiving there may be no thanks--there may even be, as in this case, resentful bitterness.

Interestingly, the role reversal that has occurred is centered around the issue of food, "groceries,"--a subject so loaded that both mother and son's voices shake when discussing it. It is perhaps not surprising that food--the real and symbolic nurturing that binds parent and child together from the moment of birth--should be the focus of this sadly transfigured relationship. The son's resigned desperation and the mother's underlying free-floating fear are poignant elements in the situation.


First published: 1986

Primary Source



Random House: Vintage

Place Published

New York