At four I got away with stealing cream,
or so I thought. That had to be the year.
When I was five we left the tenement
and moved out to the park, all by ourselves;
that house had a milk box with a cover.
But when my family lived in the apartment,
the creaking of the milkman on the stairs
up to the second floor would wake me up,
and I would tiptoe by the bedroom door
and make sure that my parents were asleep.
New light was coming through the kitchen window,
so I could see the cut glass of the doorknob,
and use both hands to turn it noiselessly.
There on the floor outside the opened door
I’d kneel before the slim and graceful bottle.
The milk back then was whole and separated,
and cold from standing in the empty hallway.
It was protected by a paper lid
inside the glass mouth, like a Dixie cup,
and covered by a waxy paper cap,
held on by folded flaps around the rim.
I’d use my fingernail to pick one free,
and ease it open, just enough to loosen
and remove the cover. Then the tab
had to be pried and pulled to lift the lid.
I knew the tasty cream was on the top,
its color pure, like in the catechism
where white milk in the bottle represented
the spotless soul when in a state of grace.
And I would drink a little, not too much.
Then I’d replace the lid, and putting on
the cap, I’d press the loose flap back again.
And no one ever mentioned it. As though
no one could tell the quart was less than full,
as though no one could know that it was me.