Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 119 in August, 2009.
I want money--
money for telephones.
Telephones so I can talk to the dead
at home in my spare time,
earn a little extra income
selling fire escapes in the underworld
to shady and disreputable figures
who loathe and despise me
yet must pay the price,
the only price there has ever been
for fire escapes
which don’t work anyway,
I am the first to admit
this to everyone I meet
which is why my wife left me,
which is why I have enemies who will go to any extreme
to blacken my name
and destroy my business by driving customers away
not in droves
but in ordinary taxi cabs never suspecting
that I am still their destination.
There is a roadside chapel you can drive to.
I am nailed to the wall there--
hair sprouted out past all reeling in,
spittle dripping from chin and eyes
that might roll back like the scroll of the sky
on some day of infamy postponed only
if you will listen to me.
There are a thousand things to say to the stranger
who makes the phone in the booth ring
as I walk by, like--It may seem at first
that I am not the one you hoped for.
You may need a shave, a woman,
some gravity to hold you down.
I can provide you
with all of these things.
I’ve been to Heaven and it’s no different.
The dead are risen incorruptible yet soon
pick up the same bad habits they had
when they were alive--
speeding all over drunk and lonely for how it used to be
in the beginningless garden unspoiled by charcoal
briquettes, lighter fluid, a horseman of the apocalypse
astride his riding lawn mower.
I was lonely once too, and broke
with shaking hands trying to light a Camel worried
that I’d light one of my fingers instead.
This is my last cigarette, I said this is my last
cigarette and then God‘s voice was in my throat
saying this is my last cigarette
but that’s okay.
It’s the one that will burn forever.