Live! Learn! Worship! Shop!

— The Paradise Chamber of Commerce


The town might as well have been called Spit in God’s Eye
or Dare to Strike Us Down Dead.
Naming anything Paradise is just asking for trouble.
The Promised Land Mall. The Elysian Fields Spa.
The Shangri-La Delicatessen.
Of course it got out of hand. Who wouldn’t want to
make a buck or two off the other world?
Take a right at Celestial, go straight past Olympus,
Valhalla, and Nirvana,
and you can’t miss Harry’s Heavenly Hot Dogs.
Galilee Plastics. River Jordan Wingnuts.
Mount Sinai Waste Management Corp.
Sure, Paradise has its share of embezzlers, check forgers,
inside traders, wives who sleep with their gardeners,
but mostly it’s just a working-class community.
Children, tired of their homework, listen to acid rock
while they load and unload their father’s collection of antique guns.
And everyone goes on being born
and dying at the appointed times on Apostle Drive
and The Blessed Martyrs Boulevard.

Imagine buying up so much land
you’re free to name every body of water, every hill
on it, turn what was a Sodom and Gomorrah
of sumac and poison ivy
into a heaven on which anyone could put down a deposit,
uproot the degeneracy of vines,
their illicit embraces.
Where God, in his limited vision, saw only pine and spruce,
the architect of this paradise pictured carports
and storm doors and kitchen appliances,
boys playing catch and girls busy at hopscotch
long before they were born. They’d go to schools
not yet built but already bearing the names
of saints. Even in Paradise
there had to be a system: so in Nightingale every street begins with N;
with an O in Oriole Glen; in Periwinkle no road’s allowed
if it doesn’t start with P. What fun
to be in charge of the language, to have the alphabet
all one’s own to do with as one wishes.

It’s not April, yet on Frosty Hollow Drive a boy’s
already half naked, on the theory
that perhaps if he acts like it’s spring,
then spring will get the picture
and come when the boy wants it, which is now,
while he’s shooting hoops in his driveway
in a town someone had the hubris to name
Paradise. He could be any boy in Paradise,
tossing baskets against his father’s garage,
tired of gravity, its incessant nagging and bothersome responsibilities,
though right now he’s the savior
in gym shorts who’s leading his team back
from certain defeat, leading his people out of Egypt
as the ball finds its way through the hoop and back
to the promised land. What’s sweeter
than hitting nothing
but strings? The bonus to a jump shot: watching it
jostle the net, the space still filled
by what’s just fallen through it, that lovely illusion
of closure, and the boy wants it
again and again, and he’ll shoot hook shots, layups, free throws
till he gets it back, no pleasure ever enough
even in Paradise.

When he lived in the city, he was Apt. 3-B.
He grew so used to worrying
it stopped being worry. It’s what he did:
he woke the kids up, got their breakfast,
made sure they brushed their teeth,
and pulled them out of the way of oncoming cars.
But now he’s 42 Linden Boulevard,
and here the streets have such pretty names —
Lily of the Valley Lane, Honey Locust Hollow —
it’s a wonder cars dare drive down them.
What if now he lost his job and had to explain to his kids
why they had to say goodbye to the friends
they’d made? 42 Linden stands just outside the door
to his children’s room and, because he can’t hear anything,
listens even harder, convinced that it’s out there,
whatever wants to hurt his kids,
and he’s got to be ready to throw himself in front of it.
So 42 Linden works
all the time. The way a blade of grass does,
reminding itself, every second of every minute,
not to loosen its grip
on its little piece of property. The way a babbling brook does
its full-time job rushing in the same direction
day in and day out. You can’t be too careful.
Even in Paradise. Especially in Paradise.

As soon as their wives and kids drive off to church
the men on streets named after flowers and fruits
head for their cellars and their train sets, the track they’ve laid,
the hills they’ve sent so softly rolling to the sea
that not even God himself could have done a better job.
On the seventh day none of them rest; instead
they search the house for the right screwdriver,
the precise wrench size,
as if every week comes down to this: oiling the tiny gears
that keep the world and its railroads running.
The milk car must deliver its miniature silver cans at 48 Fleur-De-Lis.
The cattle car has a quota it must honor at 76 Hyacinth.
Tiny sacks of mail. Tiny logs. Tinier coal.
Beneath the streets of Paradise there are
mountains to be raised,
tunnels to be dug through them.
Fields expect their fair share of flowers;
rivers demand to be carved out of the land.
The sun must be set in the heavens
and the moon can’t wait. It’s got to see to it
that the tides come in and go out
on schedule.

Because 42 Linden can play with his children
only so long, he makes up excuses
to get up from the floor where he’s been crayoning
with them and go into another room and busy himself with something
broken he’s been meaning to fix.
Put in Paradise, how many of us wouldn’t return
to our old occupations: testing the locks,
trying the windows, making work
out of the smallest of jobs, worrying, second-guessing
all we do, undermining our best intentions?
On Monday 42 Linden packs lunches for his kids;
on Tuesday he leads his Cub Scouts in the Pledge of Allegiance;
on Wednesday he visits a friend in jail.
Thursday morning he stops outside his classroom
as if he’s forgotten how to open a door,
much less teach a class. On Friday he drops off his wife
at her job at the homeless shelter.
On Saturday, while she types her reports,
he and his son make time late in the afternoon
to throw stones into the river
till it grows dark and they can see
distances only by hearing them, the splash
each rock makes. Sunday he marks his students’
essays — B+, B/B-, C+, A++
the crazy enterprise of pretending that one can
put a grade on anything.
That night his wife’s hands move over him with the quiet
authority of water, the way water’s able to
find every hollow and crevice and fill it.
Is it all right in Paradise to dream of still another paradise?
That’s what 42 Linden would like to know.
He’s a child being rescued from a sinking ship.
He’s a boy carried off by a bird
and set down in the lap of the clouds.
He’s a young man plummeting through a sky
so immense he could fall forever.