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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