One Word


By Michael Miller

He knows too few words in English
but his title at the top of the page, underlined twice,
points out his favorite: heaven.

On the more rickety of the wooden chairs
on the rickety planks of the porch next door,
he sits back-straight in the sun, lets heaven

spill in between the neighbors’ jacarandas
and the ice cream truck he urges the kids to chase.
“When I was their age, that was heaven,”

he says, snapping his fingers to the bells,
and his tutor in the better chair, the much younger girl,
gives thumbs-up at the grammar. Their topic is heaven

and his deadline is next Monday, or Tuesday, no rush,
this letter to the local bishop intended
to make his case for confirmation. If heaven

were at stake with this letter, it would take a priest,
not a high school girl, to proof it to perfection,
but he seeks a different sort of heaven

on these three pages stacked to look like one—
these three eased, not torn, from the binder.
The essay, in a word, says: I deserve heaven,

or at least it will—the first line still eludes them.
Uncrumpling her own page, the girl suggests
that he make a cluster, write HEAVEN

large in the center and connect the words
that come to mind. All right, then: He twirls his pen
and writes cars, girls, Selena, then quotes: “Thank heaven

for 7-Eleven.” They chuckle. “You think that’s true?”
he asks, pointing a plumbing-scarred finger
above the trees to what must be heaven

and drawing a jagged line down, past the roofs,
to the market on the corner. “Probably not,” he sighs.
With more words, he would say that we’ve gotten heaven

wrong, that the stars we see are only
the discards, the abandoned ones just bright enough
to evoke with metaphors and headlights, true heaven

a light beyond our corneas, a truth beyond
the words we inscribe. But the unknown is far off now
and today offers its own grace: the makeshift heaven

of a task completed, 500 right words in order
and a neat staple, the seal, in the upper left.
He shrugs, writes the first line: “I want to go to heaven.”

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