I can't walk into one of these empty places
Without thinking of Philip Larkin's "Church Going,"
And I certainly can't write about going to an empty church
Without Larkin's ghost poking me on the shoulder
And telling me, "I've already been here. Move along."
But I'm not moving along. I'm staying. I used to live here.
And so here we are: me and my daughter,
Who has only been walking on this earth a few months,
At the entrance of a church, a respite from downtown shopping.
She is banging on the baptismal font and laughing at the echo.
"You bang away, sweetheart," I tell her.
"You'll never have to be water-boarded in one of those things."
She runs from pew to pew, more giggling at novelty,
And I only make sure that she doesn't rip the hymnal pages.
Otherwise, I let her run free and sinless in the aisles
As I become distracted by wall paintings of Peter, Paul, and Mary,
Which remind me of the children's song "Puff the Magic Dragon,"
A bittersweet song about putting away nonexistent childish things.
After the baby grabs my finger to climb onto the platform,
She whacks and scream-laughs at the wooden pulpit.
In her size four purple Sauconys, she runs roughshod over this space,
Like a little trickster who knows she is defiling the sacred.
But it is her ignorance of sacrilege that pleases me most,
That odd word invented by penis-owning homo sapiens.
I imagine that my daughter will change the world one day.
I won't allow places like this to tell her that she can't.
I won't let them tell her that she needs a dead man to marry her
Or that to have a vagina is to be a second place human
Or that my sperm contained the gene for original sin,
Passed down to her along with my eye color and penicillin allergy.
When she lifts her arms for me to pick her up,
I think of those who will fill the sanctuary this weekend,
Crying and raising their hands, like babies in a crib,
Toward a father who isn't around or maybe has his headphones on.
As for me, I can pick up my girl, tell her I love her, and leave this place.
In this way, I'm a much better dad than certain folk I'm not allowed to name.