Fragmented Childhood by George Longenecker

Fragmented Childhood

I watched Laurel and Hardy say goodbye
again and again in A Perfect Day,
waving and waving in black and white,
never able to get on the road.

Nights I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid
of huge, black birds lurking outside my window.
At school we hunched under our desks for air raid drills.
In an atomic blast, we were told,
our classroom windows would blow inward.

I couldn’t finish my spelling book;
after the drill all I saw was fire and glass.
My parents fed me, but I needed somebody
to take me—somewhere, anywhere—
I don’t know why I wanted to leave,
but walking away seemed safer.

Oh, I wanted to say goodbye.
I escaped into my stamp collection, Montenegro,
Angola with its elephants and giraffes,
San Marino with its castles and turrets.
I wandered with wolves and bears
as I read Nomads of the North.

Then I ran away—in my pockets two books,
fifty cents, my six favorite marbles.
I walked and walked until it snowed,
wet flakes on pines where I hid
under drooping boughs, so cold
that I finally gave up and walked home.

Maybe I didn’t want to say goodbye,
maybe I only wanted someone to look for me.
I returned to my stamps and Superman comics,
content to fly off to Metropolis or San Marino.
Maybe I was just looking for a little light or warmth—
one day the next spring, I lit a grassy field afire.

by George Longenecker

Editor’s Note: The last two lines of this poem highlight the narrator’s trauma. Some things can’t be fixed.

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