Two Poems


Father’s grounded me for two weeks because

I failed my lath math test. No, he says, I’m

not grounding you because you failed the test

—you’re grounded because you didn’t study.

I’m not sure I know what the difference is,

I tell him. Well, when you’ve figured that out,

he says, then you’ll be a man. Then he leaves

my bedroom and tromps down the stairs.

A man? I’m only 10. It’s only long

division, and all those remainders. I

hate numbers, the way they add up even

if you subtract or divide. 56

—that was my score. And the year I was born.

Man, that’s cruel. That’s like something religious,

God angry and acting more like Satan

—there, I said it and might go to blazes

for it but sometimes I think that Heaven

has it in for me. Two weeks. No TV.

No baseball. No comic books. No dessert.

At supper I ask him to pass the bread.

That’s exactly my point, he says, as he

hands it to Mother first. She takes a roll.

Then he hands it to me. Man does not live

by bread alone, he says. Now do you see?

I don’t but say I do. Well then, he says,

explain it. I take a bite of bread

to buy some time—I’m not allowed to chew

with my mouth open. I’ll wait, Father says,

until you’ve chewed thoroughly and swallowed.

I do, then sip some milk. Well sir, I say,

it’s like this: you’ve got to take nourishment

for your soul. I look at Mother. She looks

at Father. He looks at her. Then at me.

Why yes, he says. Please pass the fish, I say.

Certainly, he says. I hold the platter

and close my eyes and raise my head toward

Heaven, which is well above the ceiling.

What are you doing, son, he asks. Praying,

I say. For what, he asks. Praying for God

to feed the multitude. Good Lord, he says.


I don’t want to go to Heaven when I

die nor not to Hell neither, I want a third

place to wind up dead in, of course there’s Earth

where I am now and when I’m croaked I’ll be

underground unless I have myself burnt

up and then I’ll be all ashes, ashes

to ashes and all that, also maybe

smoke into the atmosphere, everyone

will get to breathe a little of me for

what that’s worth but as for my immortal

soul, if I have one, at church and Sunday

School they’re pretty damn sure I do, maybe

it can go dwell somewhere new, not Heaven

nor Hell nor even Earth where I dwell now,

I guess I’m dwelling, can you dwell if you’re

only ten years old? Grandmother once said

that when she passes away she’ll go live

or her soul will on another planet

but I don’t think that’s in the Bible, not

that I care a lot, I forgot to ask

her where she got that, off TV or from

a book, but it’s too late now, I look up

to the moon and with binoculars try

to see Mars and Venus and Jupiter

and Saturn, of course there’s no sign of her

there but maybe I need a telescope

to confirm that Grandmother even though

she’s dead is still all right and if she’s right

then I’ll wake up dead on another world

but it might not be hers, maybe all mine,

and if I want to visit her I hope

that I’ll know how to or she’ll know how to

visit me but the last time she came for

a vacation I thought she’d never leave.

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