Robert Thomas’ first book, Door to Door, was selected by Yusef Komunyakaa as winner of the Poets Out Loud Prize and published by Fordham University Press, and his second book, Dragging the Lake, was published by Carnegie Mellon University Press.He has received a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Pushcart Prize. He lives with his wife in Oakland, California.
Mr Heinrich Sits in His Garden
It was hot, Mr Heinrich admitted to himself, hotter than was comfortable for him, though he knew it was what most people called a beautiful day. He amused himself imagining the heat demanding his attention like a trout tugging a taut line, but actually it was more frightening, heat incinerating a meteor as it enters earth’s atmosphere. He moved his chair a few feet into the shade of the cedar. There were dozens of greens, a dizzying array: one fern the green of a library lamp shining on a book on evolution, another the green of the verbena soap he had once given his wife for her birthday. A boxwood was the green of currency in a toll collector’s dry hands, and the west hedge was the green of the bedroom blinds that had to be open for Mr Heinrich to be able to sleep. He adjusted his straw hat to shade his eyes, and watched the rays and rapiers of light make a mess of the Japanese maple, slicing it open like sashimi.
Mr Heinrich Is Tempted
Mr Heinrich wondered if it was possible to believe in God but not the Devil. He knew, of course, that was precisely what most people did believe nowadays, but then the Devil’s primary mission would be to tempt people to not believe in him. Mr Heinrich was tempted to spend the afternoon walking in the park under the linden trees, perhaps even daring to lie on the grass and feel the lattice of light on his face, feel it to the exclusion of all else. That was his first temptation: to think that his world was the only world. Mr Heinrich knew the trees in the park were not really lindens, but he pretended they were because he thought lindens were a romantic tree, not just from a different continent but a different century. That was his second temptation. Mr Heinrich’s daughter visited him on Saturday afternoons. He looked forward to her visits but sometimes conversation was awkward so during the week he would write down topics in his journal that they might discuss. That was his third temptation—to avoid spontaneity. Mr Heinrich might share these very reflections with his daughter. The lattice of light: she would like that. Yet Mr Heinrich had to admit that sometimes he doubted he had a daughter. That was his fourth temptation. Mr Heinrich knew that the Devil could be generous, within reasonable limits, and even empathetic. In fact the Devil was understanding to an unnatural degree. That was one of the appealing qualities that gave him his power: his destructive effects were simply ripples emanating from his sad wisdom, like Mr Heinrich’s old professor who had played Schubert and taught the theology of radical discourse. Mr Heinrich had been told when he was a child that everyone is a child of God, but even then he realized that was just a way of saying that very few people were lovable by anyone but God. His fifth temptation was to believe he was one of the lovable ones. His sixth and last was to believe he was not. These were the thoughts Mr Heinrich wrote in his journal to entertain his daughter on Saturday afternoon. They would cook supper and he would make the potato pancakes she liked while she baked his favorite cutlets. Supper in the afternoon! It would be so old-fashioned, so intimate. Oh, she was very real. They would debate God and the Devil while Mr Heinrich made coffee, and they would not hurry to turn on the lamp as the sunlight withdrew from his parlor.