W.D. Ehrhart
The Damage We Do

I don't know why I fell asleep

when I was eight at the top of the stairs

listening to my parents argue. Maybe I

thought they'd find me asleep and feel

so bad they'd learn how to get along.


I don't know why I put my fist

through the kitchen storm door glass

storming out of the house when I was ten,

but my mother had to wrap my hand

in a towel and call the doctor.

An accident, she said.


I don't know why I ran from the house

in my bare feet in February,

my father swearing, me in tears

and no clear thought but getting so far

away as a thirteen-year-old could get,

which wasn't far in a small town

where your dad's a minister, everyone

thinks he's a saint, and you're a disgrace

to be acting up the way you always do.


I don't remember a time when the house

I grew up in wasn't crackling with rage.

I don't know why. I think my father

was really a mess, but he didn't

discuss that with me, and my mother

just put up with him year after year.

You get so wired, you learn to think

that's the way life's supposed to be.


And you learn to be angry all the time.

You run away to California.

You join the Marines at seventeen.

You quit every job you don't get fired from.

After a while you don't get hired,

and people avoid you; they think you're

out of control, and you probably are,

but it takes most of a lifetime just

to begin to make the connections.


By then you've got a child of your own

who's angry all the time. I'd like to say

I don't know why, but I do. 

I'd like to explain that it's not her fault,

but what's she supposed to do with that?

I'd like to undo the damage I've done,

but I don't know how. 



Found In Volume 31, No. 05
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  • W.D. Ehrhart
W.D. Ehrhart
About the Author

W.D. Ehrhart teaches English and history at The Haverford School, and his most recent book is The Madness of it All: Essays on War, Literature and American Life (McFarland, 2002).