Prose from Poetry Magazine

Second Childhood

Giving up on growing up.


I have a fairy rosary called Silver who answers questions when I dangle her in the sun at the window. So I have asked her if  I have a big ego and she swings from side to side to say no.

We have other children for friends.

We don’t understand why we are here in the world with horrible grown-ups or what the lessons are that we’re supposed to learn.

It’s not helpful for us to hear ourselves described in religious, geriatric or psychological terms, because we don’t remember what they mean.

One cruel female said, “Don’t laugh so much. You’re not a child.”

My cheeks burned and my eyes grew hot.



I decided to stop becoming an adult. That day I chose to blur facts, fail at tests, and slouch under a hood. School was my first testing ground. I misunderstood lessons, assignments, meanings of poems and stories, and misinterpreted the gestures of characters in novels. 
I was awestruck by geology but mixed up the ages of rocks. I stared and giggled, and refused to take orders and was punished.

Throughout my life I have remained vague and have accepted the humiliation it brought, almost as if stupefaction were a gift. I willfully repeat my mistakes over and over and never learn from experience.

Every day has been a threat to this attitude so I avoid obligations. For example, last night I dreamed I was on an airplane that was open to the sky and a storm was coming from a hive of stars, and I wanted to sit beside my daughter to watch the wind as we strapped ourselves tight to the invisible seats and stayed awake. If we had been grown-ups, we wouldn’t have been able to see the stars or the storm. We would have perished.

So my commitment to childhood has once again been affirmed.

Read the signs, not the authorities.

You might think I am just old but I have finally decided to make the decision to never grow up, and remain under my hood.

We are like tiny egos inside a great mountain of air. Pressed upon by the weight of ether, we can barely breathe.



One ego is like a spider clutched to a web of   its own making.

It turns to enamel and hardens on fulfillment.

Many egos fill up the whole body, every part to the tiniest hair.

Some egos are like fingernails that have been stifled by brittle paint.

All egos have something impersonal about them. They live deep inside like viruses and unlike gods who play in outer air.

But this ego covered my face with spider-dust as I lay in my bassinet.

Today I keep seeing gauze, another kind of  web of  a type that doesn’t harden but swings and shimmers.

It’s the remarkable web-hood of a spirit.



At birth a baby failure is unconscious of the shadow that covers her face: it’s from the success leaning over her crèche smudging out the color in her cheeks.

The failure is born to measure the shadow of success. This is the failure’s mission.

The secret hood around her face indicates her vocation.

The success arrives in triumph, and is instantly obsolescent, while the failures keep trying, failing, and reproducing until another success 
is born. It could be centuries from their lifetime.

It’s not ironical but logical that the failure is the one who recognizes success and identifies its potential in her enemies.

She it is who keeps their egos alive with her tears.

She is their harshest critic, she who can separate the fraud from the living, the cold from the lukewarm. She is still a failure, a tiny ego who can’t quite rise to the occasion of  being. She is an id, driven by longing.

And she has crazy rules: “If your whole body can’t breathe the air, your prayers are incomplete. No hair dye!”



I think the gods and goddesses were the last good grown-ups on earth. Once I saw them walking to a party along a beach and I could make out their shadows like a line of pines in an ocean breeze. They were laughing and calling to each other. Still, they were always aware of their mortal children’s prayers and answered them, sometimes in the form of mist, sometimes as needles of sunlight.

The gods existed outside the ego-world though they were certainly jealous and angry. Now some of them are pots and pans and wax and marbles, balls and kettles, rope and puddles. They emit a crackling sound when lightning hits the ground, and give people shingles. Other gods have chosen to break out to heaven where they blend into pastel and ride comets once a year. Sometimes it’s hard to walk with so many gods bouncing around, so I sweep and use a walking stick.

Originally Published: September 3rd, 2013

Fanny Howe is the author of more than 20 books of poetry and prose. Howe grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and studied at Stanford University. “If someone is alone reading my poems, I hope it would be like reading someone’s notebook. A record. Of a place, beauty, difficulty. A familiar daily...

Appeared in Poetry Magazine This Appears In
  1. September 26, 2013
     Hanna Busse

    This made me happy.

  2. January 31, 2015

    I agree with Hanna Busse, sublime lyrical
    storytelling that made me joyful.