Retirement is like heaven,

a friend confided recently; except  
you're not dead. Did she mean

going to bed whenever you choose,
having breakfast at 3 pm, following

a constantly changing program of pleasure
involving boat rides down the Nile, wine-

tasting and opera tickets, or hikes
in moonlight? And what is pleasure

in that pasture you're led to after
the people you used to work for put

an acrylic paperweight and a small
bouquet in your hands then wave goodbye,

goodbye, enjoy? But what else is like
heaven that isn't retirement, or that isn't

being dead? Another friend sends videos
of herself bungee-jumping in South America,

just over the lip of a pretty waterfall
pouring hundreds of feet above a basin of rock

fringed with bird calls. You also hear the mock-
screaming of her family in the background,

though you're sure there is some real fear
swirled in with all the exhilaration.

And are there heavens that exist
but don't come with the prerequisite

of passing some kind of final exam
to see whether your good deeds outweigh

the bad or the times you didn't even make
a choice— which means to get to this point

you would certainly need to have died
first of all? Your father liked to say

(before he died) that the middle way
was the best way. But then another time

he'd turn around and be the biggest fan
of seizing the day, sticking your neck out,

taking a risk: no guts no glory, and that sort
of thing. Heaven, then, here or elsewhere,

before or after death, seems to be something you
still have to work for, for the right to enjoy.

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