What I Understood by Katha Pollitt


When I was a child I understood everything

about, for example, futility. Standing for hours

on the hot asphalt outfield, trudging for balls

I'd ask myself, how many times will I have to perform

this pointless task, and all the others? I knew

about snobbery, too, and cruelty—for children

are snobbish and cruel—and loneliness: in restaurants

the dignity and shame of solitary diners

disabled me, and when my grandmother

screamed at me, “Someday you'll know what it's like!”

I knew she was right, the way I knew

about the single rooms my teachers went home to,

the pictures on the dresser, the hoard of chocolates,

and that there was no God, and that I would die.

All this I understood, no one needed to tell me.

the only thing I didn't understand

was how in a world whose predominant characteristics

are futility, cruelty, loneliness, disappointment

people are saved every day

by a sparrow, a foghorn, a grassblade, a tablecloth.

This year I'll be

thirty-nine, and I still don't understand it.

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