Home from dance class, nine years old,
late autumn, early dusk and chill, Mother in the kitchen,
of course, and a new puzzle somebody had given me
for no apparent reason—months since my birthday,
Christmas not really close. On the box was a stylized
painting of a little boy, a Gallic waif with huge sad eyes
and oversized head, sitting on an ice-cream parlor chair.
My class was learning a new routine to a song about gingerbread
with a chorus that went uh-huh. . . uh-huh.
It seemed ridiculous that grown-ups had written,
then performed and recorded, that song.
It wasn’t a song for children, either—
I don’t know what it was for—
but it was glossy as the too-bright yellows
and blues of the puzzle boy, who was made
for children—something cute for the children—
something drawn and painted in a foreign country
in the international language of sentiment.
Though already I’d learned to look askance
at smarm, could spot schmaltz when I saw it,
how desperately I loved the puzzle boy, sad and cute
and clearly too nice to hurt me, loved the way
my head played the gingerbread song
for weeks, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.
Author Discusses Poems