menu Arc Poetry Magazine
Essay

Heather Simeney MacLeod on Brad Cran's "On Childhood"

(How Poems Work, June 2005)
Brad Cran’s poem “On Childhood” works on several levels, as most evocative and strong pieces of writing do. It is fundamentally a lamentation of childhood, of loss, imbued with particulars. The poem suggests a strange almost melancholic longing for what most thirty-somethings have in common: the sophisticated childhood gleaned from growing up in the aftermath of free-love. It speaks to the children moving out from the communes filled with doodleart and ponchos, finding Clifford Olsen (for those of us from BC) calling us at dusk from our cul-de-sacs : “We dreamt of bloodied hammers,/ a bad man and a rusty van hunched down/ in the parking lot of Safeway.” However–and this not an easy task to undertake, let alone to succeed at in such a small, contained piece of writing–the loss of childhood is made tactile. It becomes real, remembered, the loss irrevocable: “This tree I passed every night without interest/ until the potential of slick rubber tires,/ the sparkling handlebars that I gripped/ as my imagination pedaled off into the night, / where what exists around the corner is left/ out of the lens.” Cran has the ability to articulate the universal grief of growing up, and leaving behind the child we once were….

Brad Cran’s poem “On Childhood” works on several levels, as most evocative and strong pieces of writing do. It is fundamentally a lamentation of childhood, of loss, imbued with particulars. The poem suggests a strange almost melancholic longing for what most thirty-somethings have in common: the sophisticated childhood gleaned from growing up in the aftermath of free-love. It speaks to the children moving out from the communes filled with doodleart and ponchos, finding Clifford Olsen (for those of us from BC) calling us at dusk from our cul-de-sacs : “We dreamt of bloodied hammers,/ a bad man and a rusty van hunched down/ in the parking lot of Safeway.” However–and this not an easy task to undertake, let alone to succeed at in such a small, contained piece of writing�the loss of childhood is made tactile. It becomes real, remembered, the loss irrevocable: “This tree I passed every night without interest/ until the potential of slick rubber tires,/ the sparkling handlebars that I gripped/ as my imagination pedaled off into the night, / where what exists around the corner is left/ out of the lens.” Cran has the ability to articulate the universal grief of growing up, and leaving behind the child we once were.


Brad Cran’s poem “On Childhood” works on several levels, as most evocative and strong pieces of writing do. It is fundamentally a lamentation of childhood, of loss, imbued with particulars. The poem suggests a strange almost melancholic longing for what most thirty-somethings have in common: the sophisticated childhood gleaned from growing up in the aftermath of free-love. It speaks to the children moving out from the communes filled with doodleart and ponchos, finding Clifford Olsen (for those of us from BC) calling us at dusk from our cul-de-sacs : “We dreamt of bloodied hammers,/ a bad man and a rusty van hunched down/ in the parking lot of Safeway.” However–and this not an easy task to undertake, let alone to succeed at in such a small, contained piece of writing�the loss of childhood is made tactile. It becomes real, remembered, the loss irrevocable: “This tree I passed every night without interest/ until the potential of slick rubber tires,/ the sparkling handlebars that I gripped/ as my imagination pedaled off into the night, / where what exists around the corner is left/ out of the lens.” Cran has the ability to articulate the universal grief of growing up, and leaving behind the child we once were.
Though the poem is a requiem for the loss of childhood, it is also a poem illustrating the movement, inevitable as it is, from innocence to the experience found in maturity. For example, “We see what we want to see/ and when we are able to ignore the rest/ there is fire in our eyes and strength in our teeth.” Cran’s use of reversal appears effortless: in this poem the view from innocence is clear and uncluttered while the view from the adult, indeed the mature eye, is flawed. The philosophical level of this poem indicates the mature eye is necessarily faulty, as the loss of innocence is a requirement, a need, in order to merely carry on.
Certainly, with the use of the repetitive, “Do you understand your sadness?” Cran elicits an analytical rendering of the poem. The question itself, particularly the way in which it reoccurs, begs for a response. The series of questions at the close of the poem, as well, leave the reader grappling with time, with grief, with misplaced notions of childhood, with the very real, tangible haunting of the inevitable shift from childhood to adulthood. This movement from child to adult is summed up perfectly in the last phrase of the poem, and it is this last phrase which garners the greatest remembrance, and which leaves the reader with the sepia-toned memory of the greatest loss discovered in childhood: we cannot fly. This last question pulls the reader back into the poem in a circular motion so the reader is left searching for answers within the very text which prompted the questions.