The old man sits on the edge of his bed in his single room
His hair is white as the four walls, white as the gown he wears.
He looks into his hands, the white palms
He looks deeply, circling one thumb over the other palm, right, then left
Where is it? He wonders and he moves his hands into the bright fluorescence
He searches and imagines the tiny dot in the middle of his left palm
But it is not there, finally, and he looks again at his right hand
Rubbing the palm again, as if to clear dew from a window
And there it is, just below his middle finger
Just above the life-line.
It was in nineteen forty-seven on the third floor of Lincoln Elementary School
A fine fall day. It was early afternoon.
It was never late at Lincoln Elementary School and this day
There had been early rain and the smell of the grass and the new-fallen leaves
Made its way through the third-floor windows like music
He had a new fountain pen and in a slip of the hand he stuck his other palm with the blue-wet nib
And left there a tattoo, below the skin
That healed over quickly and sealed the mark and never faded.
Everything else did.
His job, his house, his wife of fifty years, his children, all of them hundreds of miles away.
Mary Hart was there when he pierced his hand
Hers was the desk behind his
Her long hair, black as night; her white blouse and tartan skirt
She is thirty years now in the grave
They knew so little then and the world was so small.
He would like to see her black hair now, its glossy sheen
Her fresh face and easy smile that told him all was well then
He would like to smell the earth and moss wet with rain
As it filtered through the windows then
Then he would know heaven.