Now I must speak as if there were light within me, as if there were a cool, watery light — as if there were goodness where I know there is only the stale bread of the brain, the bitter dryness of disappointment, greed, self-pity. Jesus, press against the inside of my brain like radiance, like a solution of opaque glimmers. Let me know the easy lapping of light that does not hurt. For years I have wanted to be brilliant, I have wanted, I have wanted, and tasted the little, shocking yeast of ambition spurting up into my throat. I swallow it back down. Even with you, my words are laced with the acids of persistent ambition. I have never sought to be loved, to be blessed, but only saved, have wished for the healing salvation of a flame to be as famous as a fire that rushes through brambles. If the children escape through the tall grass they speak of it afterward reverently, secretly as if it were still burning, as if they were half-afraid, half-proud it had been they who set the woods ablaze, they whose lives had been in danger. Dear Jesus, today I want forgiveness, this is all I should have ever been asking for. I have a quick, curious mind, I have the matches and have been striking them ever since I knew about the blue fire which leaped from their soft heads. I have been letting the flames die in the air beside me. A man with magnificent dreams and a history of minor victories knows what it is to live in a house where a child can’t stop fooling with matches where the rooms are often filling with smoke, the windows being thrust open, air let in. The brain is the only room I am safe in, it smells of ashes, there is a black haze that can be lifted off its walls, the reek of an old fire remains. All my body fluids are tinged with this smoke, my urine, my plasma. As a boy I used to look at pictures of you, Jesus, and wish to hold your whiteness in my palm, a soothing ointment, a pale liquid. Dear God, let everything I say now be as hushed and forgiving as the light that seems to fill your tender, naked body, I used to be sure if I touched you, I would be healed. Light would rise through you and brim over, it would spill into my hands. Bless me, Jesus. Don’t heal me, don’t save me. Let the cool, watery light of your love flow into me, let me feel its gentle pressure against my forehead, the quiet rippling there.
Registration For The Draft
“If sending boys off to their deaths in war is not child molesting, I don’t know what is.”
— R.T. Slocum, A Guide to Draft Counseling
Because he is beautiful, frail, and arrogant, it is time to scare my son and teach him how many men wish to lay hands on him. At his age I dreamed of a father helping me to string a bow, grip a bat, grasp anything hard and reliable, and I woke on a bus with a man’s fingers on my thighs. This is the little I tell my boy about being molested. “It is stupid,” he says. At thirteen he demands that the world be logical if not lovely — war is stupid, sex is stupid. He is already frightened of his mother’s loveliness in the bath, of his own skin glistening in water. This is the time to make him careful. And I tell him of my friend washing her hair, late at night by her apartment window — the next day she was found, bruised and weeping. But he wants to hear more. Once my mother shrieking pushed a man off our front porch — he was young and lame, a salesman his suitcase of samples spilling on the grass. My brother and I were hiding in the hedge, and he whispered to us from a place in his throat so painful we believed him, “Your mother is a vicious woman, she has been waiting all her life to do that to some man, to send him falling. Someday she will hurt you, turn on you.” Be careful, Mouse. I remember how on the bus I could smell the smoke in the man’s hands — he had been fighting forest fires. For weeks after I fled, I was sure I had hurt him in a way I could not understand, sure I owed him an apology. I walked home ashamed of my own strange desires and of a world where lives get damaged so easily. I knew worse things could happen and they have. A father knows better than to hope his child shall not be touched. Learn a forgiving sorrow for the world, my son, when you are.
After The Operation
Unlike you, Father, I am still a family man. My sons undress by the creek, offering their bodies back to the light. Like you, I love the soft possibilities to a boy, his round shoulders, helpless, foolish belly, each muscle’s sudden frankness. Now that I am almost sterile, I want another child conceived just before the last sperm swims from me. Most of my body is water like a planet’s. It takes a long time to exhaust me of life-bearing seed. When my wife touches me, at night, I feel the dark universe flowing under and around me. I lift with its high tide like that small, perfect ship, Paradise, and ride with a wave to its crest. God, before the wreck, why weren’t you searching the hold for a stowaway, another precious boy? I want a third son, a mistake, a child so beautiful for a while I can believe in his immortality. Unlike you, God, I can indulge in the harmless love of a boy and permit my Adam to be vain and defiant. I can allow a son his few errors, a boy’s lovely carelessness. A man does not dare demand his dreamy purposes be fulfilled. I do not share your deep, premeditated designs on the world, Lord, nor your permanent dissatisfactions.