the wax paper

What We Knew In 1947

We knew about George Washington,

the axe, the tree: to never tell a lie.

In second grade we didn’t know much, but

we knew Bobby’s dad never got to third grade;

we knew to stay away from Hank Parker

who had lice; we knew men in cars would honk

and offer rides, but to just keep walking; we knew

to fend for ourselves after school;

we knew kids from the Hebrew Home

had been left there by their parents; we knew

the neighbor man who touched girls

and asked Does that feel good? We knew

to run past the domed insane asylum;

we knew Jamie had fits and fell on the floor—

we knew not to look, but we did; we knew

Joey stole candy from Mr. Wolff’s store;

we knew Nick Bell got a beating most nights; and

we knew not to tell grownups what we knew.


from Biting the Apple (Penciiled In, 2012)

Jeanie is the San Luis Obispo County poet laureate and author of Biting the Apple and Marriage and Other Leaps of Faith. Her poems have been published on Writers’ Almanac and American Life in Poetry.