A BLIND BOY'S FIRST GLIMPSE OF HEAVEN
I climbed the stepladder to Heaven when I was eight,
my father spotting me from behind.
I liked that he stayed below.
How else could I hear where the world was?
"You can move around, Son, but shuffle your feet,
in case there's a stray bale of hay to trip over,
and you don't want to walk off the edge."
God was in a meeting, I guess.
Anyway, I never saw Him.
What had He done to Lucifer?
And what did the Bible mean by "cast him out?"
Did God have a squad of angel goons up there
to blind-side him from the back and shove him off?
I wanted to jump, to see if I'd survive.
Fifty years later, Aunt Polly said,
"You better get ready, Dan, if you want God
to take you up to be with your Dad again,
and won't it be great to finally see his face?"
I don't know. I'm just getting to love
this world for what it is, a flawed place
with its subway platforms overlooking the third rail,
its hay lofts, open sewers and loading docks,
and all the strangers who've looked out for me,
letting me take their arms to walk with them.
I'm thinking, the next time I see Aunt Polly,
I'm going to tell her about my new vision.
"It's really going to be something," I'll say.
"In Heaven, you'll finally get to be blind."
* * *
Aunt Vivian first told me about them.
"Leave it to those French people," she laughed.
I was eleven, and suddenly I felt
something new and unnamable for her,
a wanting to be in the same room, under foot
while she baked pies, or on the wide arm
of her easy chair when she watched the evening news.
Who would guess that, a year later, I'd have my first
from a housemother at the boarding school for the blind,
an Irish washer-woman who would yell at you
if you had a hair out of place or asked for something?
That Friday afternoon, my brother Dave and I
would soon be thwanking our metal white canes
down Malvern Avenue on our first solo trip
home by bus, hoping we'd find the right place
to stand and wait, not talking about what we'd do
if the driver let us off at the wrong street.
Maybe it was a sense of impending doom
that made us linger longer at her door.
Maybe it was our fledgling independence
that made us stand a half-inch taller and talk
with the ease of adults around a kitchen table.
And why was it we were suddenly learning
her husband's name, and that they both worked
in a shoe factory in Connecticut
before he died and she moved to Pennsylvania?
"Well, we'd better go," we said,
Sounding like our parents' friends at midnight,
When they packed up their cards and rubbed their stiffened knees.
And then Dave walked into her room to give her a hug
(not out of the question on a good day.)
I heard her stand and the crinkling of his coat,
and then silence for what seemed too long.
"Come here, Twin," she said, and so I did.
I didn't want to notice the smoker's breath,
or the false teeth that clicked when she yelled at us.
I was too surprised by gentleness to think,
too fascinated with the touch of tongue on tongue.
I'd been punished by this woman countless times.
She sat back down, and we walked to the top of the stairs.
"Have a nice weekend," we shouted over our shoulders.
We were going home with a dark secret,
and yet I felt light--in fact, so light
I slid all the way down the long banister.
How could she do anything bad to me now?
* * *
I lit the candles, poured the wine.
You were hungry, too,
in that college room,
but for something more permanent than I.
I was still too much the young boy
made to sleep in an open dorm,
desire and curiosity stoked
by years of being forced to play
on a cold, northern playground
separate from the girls'.
You had dreams that expanded into deep time.
All I wanted was a generous friend
in a narrow bed in a closet of a room.
Love, or so I called you then,
can you give me a free pass?
I say I only wanted
something safe and narrow,
and yet, on some blind level,
I saw the rightness of the wide and deep you hoped for—
what I hoped for
when I sweet-talked the housemother
as I snuck a radio into the dorm.
I thought I might get lucky
and catch a wave of lovesong
from some station in the sun-soaked South,
a wave that would sweep me across the playground
and over its high brick wall.