Pain to Follow and Hansel and Gretel

by David Bergman


It must have been summer.  It must have been hot.
I had not yet begun to go to school.
I was afflicted with that lethargy

that is the special disease of childhood:
sick of myself and angry that no one
knew what I did not know myself—what it was

I wanted. I had gone down to the basement
for what? To be alone? Because it was cool?
Because there I could stretch out on the tile

and do nothing?  The floor was covered
with my toy cars, little match-box Chevys
and Fords in plastic, aluminum and lead.

There were twenty or so in red and green
Blue and banana yellow, yet none gleamed
As it had in its package.  I bent my head

To imagine them racing down the highway
And instead I saw a vast junkyard. Chassis
Gouged and smashed. One melted by a match,

On not a few unwheeled and cracked
Recemented, and recracked, axles twisted,
Paint-jobs blistered, not that I meant to do harm.

But I had, I had, and I knew that I
would do it again.  For I saw clearly
no matter how gently I treated my toys,

I could not save them from destruction. I
wanted to cry but there was no point
in crying. I could not change what I was.

Nearly sixty now I look across the waste
I have made. I touch the people I love
and expect bruises, bleeding, pain to follow.


You’re too young to know what it’s like to go
into rooms and forget what you came for,
but it happens to me all the time now,

and instead of luxuriating in
that moment freed of obligation,
I panic at my apparent pointlessness.

I’ve no reason to be where I am, no
cause for standing dazed at the bedroom door.
This is my home after all! But it feels

like a dark wood hung with signs I can’t read
any longer.  Yet despite my failure
to recall what I want,  I still desire

something if only an explanation
of how I came to be here. I would cry
like a child for someone to step forward

and say, I’m your heart’s desire, if I
thought it would do any good.  But even
on the last fully illustrated page

of Grimm there’s no one who can see so deep
within us and learn the needs we only
dimly are aware of entertaining.

No use either to retrace those steps back
to where such longings first began.  We’ve learned
painfully how those we trusted have sold

us out and that the thin marauding birds
have already gobbled up our trail of crumbs.
Hansel, Gretel! How could you not hear them

swooping down?  What faith made you deaf to their
insistent flutter?  Now all we can hope
is that the old crone who’s taken us in

won’t figure out it’s just a chicken wing
we’ve been extending through the bars and not
the arm she has waited so long to eat.

Heroic Measures, Cracking the CodeWritings from Whitman to Sedaris by David Bergman

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