we tried to leave this pretty how town

The following is my personal response to the poem [anyone lived in a pretty how town] by e.e. cummings. It explores the themes presented in the poem regarding the transition into adulthood and the drastic changes an individual may go through when this loss of innocence and loss of youth occurs.

It was normal in Cambridge to forget.

On the year one was to turn eighteen — no matter the day on which they were born — on the day of winter solstice, in the town of Cambridge, they would forget.

Forget the touch of their mother (which should have been warm but was not), forget the feeling of sun on their face (which should have been warm but was not), forget the idea of love and hope and warmth itself.

Our mothers and fathers told us that it was to the best of our interests, to forget these younger years, as life was cold and the sun would always set and there was no point in hoping for more. In the past, they said, when the parents of their parents would remember, it was as if they had  to wake up each morning to less warmth and less sun and less love than they once had.

Forgetting is not forced upon us. It happens, somehow, that the coldest and darkest of days in the year brings with it a ‘clean slate’ (as our parents would call it) for the soon-to-be adults. Our parents, of course, were one of the few things we would remember. It was better, of course, they insisted. We would be stronger and wiser and better if we forget.

Our mothers and fathers introduced us when we were twelve, and full of pure warmth and innocent love. Before we ever would go out and meet each other, our parents would grasp us by the shoulders, look into our eyes (warm, warm, warm) with their eyes (cold, cold, cold) and remind us that we would forget one day. And we would smile and say ‘I remember,’ and proceed to forget that such thing whenever we looked into each other’s eyes.

Your eyes whispered spring and summer in their blue-green hues, and your hands were warmer than any I had ever touched before, and my fear of forgetting was satiated whenever your eyes and your hands held me.

When our final winter solstice was approaching, I went up to my parents and said we would run away together and I didn’t want to forget and I’m sorry mom, dad, and they looked at me plainly. And my father spoke, and my heart most possibly stopped working, and he said,

“So did we.”

I didn’t want to tell you that, of course, and so I didn’t. And so I packed up a bag, and I know you packed one up to, and I kissed my parents goodbye and ignored their pitying stares and I’ve been here, at the place we promised, and I’ve been waiting, and my heart is worried that your parents may have stopped you, or you….

No, no, you don’t want to forget either. You looked into my eyes and held my hands and we both promised we wouldn’t forget. And—

Oh! There, you’re right there, coming towards me. Your bag looks awfully small, and I feel bad that I did not think to bring extra food and clothes for you and—



And you’ve passed me by just now. I laugh (I panic), and run up to you and smile (I’m terrified) and go for your hand and look into your eyes and—

“Oh. Sorry, I thought… I thought you looked familiar.”

Strange. Not like me to run up to people I don’t know like that. How embarrassing. I must have blanked out, I can’t quite remember what I was to do today…

I’ll have to ask my parents.

(It was normal in Cambridge to forget.)

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6 thoughts on “we tried to leave this pretty how town

  1. dear claire:
    this piece sent shivers down my spine because of how perfectly haunting it was. i never realized just how terrifying the pretty how town could be and you’ve shone a new light upon the poem. the usual comfort of parenthood was completely absent in this piece and i commend you on being able to make a reader feel so alone in a piece that includes more than one character. it also breaks my heart that your parents, one of the few things you would remember, cannot protect their children from the imminent winter.
    this piece captured the idea of a pretty how town perfectly and was a joy to read.
    with love,

    1. Dear Harmehar,

      Thank you so much for such a wonderful comment. To know you enjoyed reading my piece truly, truly makes me extremely happy.

      My hope was to do as you said – create solitude and loneliness in this empty town so full with individuals. I am overjoyed to see that affect was achieved.

      Thank you so much, once more.

      With love,

  2. Thank you for sharing this piece, Claire. It’s truly brilliant. It’s written in such a lyrical way that it dances, and then at the end the reader feels the dance steps faulter as foot trips on damnable foot, and the memory is erased. I am so in awe of this flow, this idea, this space you’ve entranced. Bravo.

    You have two weeks to write a one act for me. Please.

    This story would be a fascinating one act.


    1. Dear Ms. Orchard,

      Thank you so much, once more, for such kind words. Your praise truly makes my heart sing and soar.

      And I’m already on it 🙂

      With love,

  3. Dear Claire,


    The characters and the setting and everything about this story were so, as Harmehar said “haunting”, it was almost like these people were physically there, but mentally/ emotionally, they were not – a space, a gap, a hollowness.

    Along the track of my thoughts, my brain had made a connection between these citizens of Cambridge and our day-and-age robots – they are physically THERE but it’s almost like they’re mentally missing a quality and their just mentally not present. Somehow, your writing had provided such a strong imagery of emptiness where my mind formed an imagery of a world in which it is only black and white, where a gray area does not exist. Could this quality of forgetting be the representation of the gray area? It would make sense thus, the gray area is most commonly associated with the quality of uncertainty, and I would argue that when an individual is uncertain of a event, they would want to forget the event and push it to the back of their mind. Perhaps that is why the narrator of this story forgot about the lover, maybe deep down there was a grey area within, a area of uncertainty.

    Perhaps the grey area may have nothing to do with it and these people spiral around forgetfulness like a bug buzzing around the neon lights on a forgotten street, never questioning the way of things perceiving they’ve already gotten the most they could have out of life, after all they can’t exactly remember.

    I digress. Perhaps none of what I had just said made sense, perhaps your wondering what any of that was about, perhaps I’m sitting here wondering if this even could qualify for a decent comment, and perhaps this post has just sent me into a inner turmoil of questions about life and all the crazy things out there. But nevertheless I know for sure that whatever doubt, fear, and wonder I’ve had before reading this post has just wrapped it self around me with full force and is more evident than ever. I absolutely ADORE this post, I know that it will stick with me for a long, long time. Unless I forget. (Jokes I don’t think I can ever forget about the brilliance of this story).


    Judy :)))

    1. Dear Judy,

      Wow to you too! This comment is one of the most thoughtful, detailed, intricate one I have ever had the honour of receiving, and I thank you for bestowing that honour upon me.

      I never thought my piece would be examined in such a thought-provoking way, so I thank you for spending time to examine my work even the slightest.

      “The grey” – as you mentioned – is exactly words I would use to describe my idea of the pretty how town. There is no overwhelming joy nor overwhelming sadness, no lasting excitement nor lasting dullness – it is simply a grey world in which things are forgotten and remembered and people really don’t care which of those it is.

      Thank you, thank you, thank you for such a lovely comment. It really made me extremely happy and satisfied with the piece I’ve published.

      With love,

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