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Childhood


ISSUE:  Summer 1987
We will build the poem
around some incident
that happened long ago.
Long ago means ten years
to the five-year-old.
Long ago means ten
centuries to the
academician—No poetry
since Chaucer he snorts.
We will build the poem
around a car driving away,
some dirt in a pot,
a few flowers.
Someone in a house is
making supper. She
is making a stew. She
cuts up carrots. You
can hear the meat sizzling,
splashing itself in its own
hot fat. Outside, in the
street, I have just
fallen off my bike.
I taste the cinders and
the leaves. I feel
the cold against my cheek.
Five years later, it is
winter. I am throwing
snowballs with Paul Ruby.
We hate each other.

A snowball hits me in the
face and breaks my glasses.
Later, summer, we sit
on the lawn in front
of his house. We are
finished with swords,
we are finished with cops
and robbers, with “Gray Ghost.”
We are playing mumbletypeg,
with a little knife.
One day amidst these years
someone led me over Franklin
Field, past the ball diamond
into the woods
where the giant turtle
lay in a pool of white worms.
Another day I am at the plate
hearing the shouts of the boys
taunting me. I took it
personally. I took everything
personally. I struck out.
I never played again.
In winter I recall
the skating in the park.
They would flood the tennis
courts, take down the fences.
Scratchy music played.
And there was a girl—
Terry Manfrates—whose name
I just remembered today,
with bright red cheeks
and clean white teeth.
I did a funny thing.
I never took my skates off
in the shack
like all the others,
but kept them on my feet

all the way home.
It was a two-block walk
on crusted snow,
or if on the sidewalk—
on the points so as not to dull
the blades.
A curious gait—
a boy half frozen
walking on his toes.
Once a girl took pity on me,
her father stopped their car
to give me a ride.
Another time we’d sit
beneath the oak trees
for hours.
Giant acorns, I don’t know
what kind, littered the ground.
It was a contest
to find the biggest one.
Some, when they hit the
street, would pop their caps
off. The round of
the shell was dry and
smooth, with a white
film like dried glue for hair.
It was a wondrous thing
to rub them in your hands.

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