Innocence and Experience

I laid myself down as a woman
And woke as a child.
Sleep buried me up to my chin,
But my brain cut wild.

Sudden summer lay sticky as tar
Under bare white feet.
Stale, soot-spotted heapings of winter
Shrank in the street.

Black headlines, infolded like napkins,
Crashed like grenades
As war beat its way porch by porch
Up New Haven's façades.

Europe: a brown hive of noises,
Hitler inside.
On the sunny shelf by the stairs
My tadpoles died.

Big boys had already decided
Who'd lose and who'd score,
Singing one potato, two potato,
Three potato, four.

Singing sticks and stones
May break my bones
(but names hurt more).

Singing step on a crack
Break your mother's back
(her platinum-ringed finger).

Singing who got up your mother
When your daddy wasn't there?
Singing allee allee in free! You're
Dead, you're dead, wherever you are!

Anne Stevenson, "Innocence and Experience" from Poems 1955-2005. Copyright © 2005 by Anne Stevenson. Reprinted with the permission of Bloodaxe Books Ltd.
Source: Poems 1955-2005 (Bloodaxe Books, 2005)
More Poems by Anne Stevenson