Scala Paradisi

There are children who cross rivers and a ravine, 
complete with swaying bridge, in order to get to school

two villages away. I am reminded of them when I see
a painted icon from the 12th century: "Ladder of Divine

Ascent," otherwise known as "Ladder of Paradise,"
depicting St. John Climacus leading monks in dark robes

up a 30-rung ladder toward heaven. In the lower right
corner, their brother monks cheer them on or gaze

anxiously as demons armed with bows and arrows
and snares attempt to yank them off course.

One of the monks has fallen headfirst into a yawning
pit which presumably is the doorway to hell;

two more are dangerously close on his heels. The gold
burnished background means this belongs to allegory:

a field in which a small choir of angels on upper
left peers, as though through a patch of torn

wallpaper. A 30-rung ladder could take those children
up a steep embankment; a 30-rung ladder is what our

handyman uses to climb up to the roof to sweep
leaves and storm debris out of the gutters.

30 rungs, 30 steps to heaven: it sounds almost
like that board game we played in childhood,

where snakes stood for vices and ladders for virtues.
I'm not surprised to discover a 13th century Indian

saint named Gyandev invented the game. On the top
right is the figure of Christ with hands outstretched,

waiting to welcome those successful in their ascent.
And the teacher, like the host in a reality TV obstacle

show, will wait for her young charges to step out of
the water or the trail, sticky from the effort not to fail.

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