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Page 121

Early childhood -- the blank slate, tabula rasa
(Farewell, Beulah! -- that is, Ta, bula).
It's a magic blankness on which,
first dimly, then with increasing vividness,
things appear as I look at it -- not seek,
just look, pay attention. It's like
knowing where someone's hiding, saying,
"I see you there" and waiting for him
to appear. Out from behind that tree emerges

the silky warm sour-sweet musk of nipple
(as big as my mouth) just before milk flows;
a yellow cave of light carved out of night
where a huge hand supports me in water
surrounded by rubbery smells (a bassinet,
someone says);

two little blankets -- cotton? --
with silky edges, identical (I would try
to persuade myself that they were perfectly
identical) except one was pink and the other blue.
I'd suck my thumb through them -- that is,
push the cottony part (NEVER the silk)
into my mouth with my thumb and suck away.
When one blanket was matted and tacky with saliva,
it would be taken away (washed), while I
sucked at the other (always good to find
a fresh spot).

They were identical, yet it was a point of dogma to me
that the pink one tasted better, because I knew
pink tasted better than blue.

There are more of you behind that tree -- the smell
of baby powder, the hugeness of a safety pin, the
pleasant rough feel of a fresh diaper; feeling relieved
to be here, America -- a relief that had begun when
the German in the sidecar of the motorcycle (whose driver
I'd shot) machine-gunned me, though too late
to stop the crude bomb we partisans had just planted
from blowing up a railroad bridge -- somewhere
southeast of Paris. Why did they have to hook
carloads of Jews (standing room only) to carloads
of munitions? When it blew, what a relief to be shot,
to be done with deciding...

Note: In stanza one, "Ta, Beulah" (for tabula – the slate that John Locke says is blank as is each newly born child) might also suggest a farewell to innocence. (In Pilgrim's Progress Beulah is a peaceful paradise reached near life's end, not exactly childhood, but this poem suggests that childhood innocence and the blank slate are lies, and the end of one life abuts on the start of the next.)

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