What I Understood

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.

0 thoughts on “What I Understood

  1. Very fine. The smallest, oddest, yet most singular things can offer salvation to those who desperately yearn for it, as the poet has, for reliving the well-catelogued painful details of the poem.

  2. There are some interesting insights in this piece. I’m sure a lot of people can commiserate. I sure the hell can. I particularly enjoyed part of the one line which read “no one needed to tell me.”
    Although, I think I would also say that things are not always shitty. Your poem communicates this as well in “people are saved everyday / by a sparrow, a foghorn, a grass blade, a table cloth”.

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