I can’t remember how old I was,
but I used to stand in front
of the bathroom mirror, trying to imagine
what it would be like to be dead.
I thought I’d have some sense of it
if I looked far enough into my own eyes,
as if my gaze, meeting itself, would make
an absence, and exclude me.
It was an experiment, like the time
Michael Smith and I set a fire in his basement
to prove something about chemistry.
It was an idea: who I would
or wouldn’t be at the end of everything,
what kind of permanence I could imagine.
In seventh grade, Michael and I
were just horsing around
when I pushed him up against that window
and we both fell through—
astonished, then afraid. Years later
his father’s heart attack
could have hit at any time,
but the day it did they’d quarreled,
and before Michael walked out
to keep his fury alive, or feel sorry for himself,
he turned and yelled, I wish you were dead!
We weren’t in touch. They’d moved away.
And I’ve forgotten who told me
the story, how ironic it was meant
to sound, or how terrible.
We could have burned down the house.
We could have been killed going through
that window. But each of us
deserves, in a reasonable life,
at least a dozen times when death
doesn’t take us. At the last minute
the driver of the car coming toward us
fights off sleep and stays in his lane.
He makes it home, we make it home.
Most days are like this. You yell
at your father and later you say
you didn’t mean it. And he says, I know.
You look into your own eyes in a mirror
and that’s all you can see.
Until you notice the window
behind you, sunlight on the leaves
of the oak, and then the sky,
and then the clouds passing through it.