Bring him back! The words, at first,
were faint and muffled, as if windblown.
Damn! Don’t let him die!
and I was lying alone in a small meadow
above the Maine coastline. But slowly
the words became more distinct,
coming from somewhere below me,
for I seemed to be floating upwards,
slowly upwards towards white ceiling panels.
Damn! Damn! Damn! Oh Hell! Cleared?
O Jesus Christ! I counted twelve holes across,
then fifteen down. I multiplied:
180 holes per panel. How many panels? At what cost
could I install them? Son of a bitch!
Again! Again! Turning slightly,
I could see the other panels. I counted six
before I looked down. A doctor in a green cap
held two paddles to a patient’s chest,
nodded and whop,
the patient’s body jolted. One more time!
Enough! Enough! Calmly, even slightly amused,
I watched the doctors in the operating room
step away from my body. How ugly,
how tainted, how disease-ridden, how corrupted
it looked, lying bloody, half naked. A long sigh,
as a nurse in the far right corner crossed herself,
on her lips a Hail Mary, I gathered,
while I watched her thin hands move. A small heave
of her shoulders and she followed the others
filing from the room, abandoning my corpse,
my blank eyes staring. Humming from the air-conditioner.
My senses transferred. “Forgive us,” that last nurse to leave
whispered, actually crying a little. But now
my new invisible form that took no breath
or space began to drift
sideways through the walls, down the corridors
to where my family—the little knot of the bereaved—
waited for what they surely knew they’d hear.
Doors opened. “I’m so sorry,” one doctor said.
“We . . . ” I say a little prayer
I dream a little dream.
Dream a little dream with me.
An open magazine,
Time or Newsweek or US News and World Report, with an article
I’d been going to read
on something trivial, inconsequential
as most things now seemed. “Don’t cry,”
a friend said to another. “He feels no pain.”
Yet I did, remnants of earthly life clinging. Without eyes, foolishly
I tried to meet their eyes. Without voice
I called my love to my son, my daughter, my wife,
three times a lady. But it was hopeless.
I tried to send them signs and symbols,
managing to move a water glass
a quarter of an inch, to cause a tiny breeze
to swell the frayed edge of an orange curtain,
but none of those waiting noticed.
One last attempt: I made a radiator whistle
out of nowhere, yet no one turned to it,
so I finally gave up. “This must be all.
It was all.” Whatever I’d become seemed to thin,
drifting even more lightly as I rose
like smoke or a wisp of engine steam
from floor to floor inside the hospital,
emerging, floating above it,
seeing down onto the storage sheds of corrugated metal
scattered about its asphalt roof. Then a rush
and over the edge. . . seeing down upon city streets,
tops of trees like tops of broccoli bunches,
tented roofs, mansard roofs, schools, schoolyards,
as I rose higher and higher,
through the soft air, into cirrus clouds—
the wings of a local traffic plane
near me for a second before it became a blue cross
suspended in the blue sky. In vain,
I tried to direct myself, even though weightless,
trying to sink down to Earth,
as faster and faster I rose
until I saw Earth’s curvature emerge
like a turtle’s back from out of dark waters,
with all the jigsaw puzzle interlockings
of land and ocean, forests and rivers,
the Mandelbrot forms,
order in chaos, chaos back to order.
Strange, I was “e,” not “m”
yet felt as if my body was still gathered in a swirl
of matter around me, a ghost body,
like the sensation an amputee reports he feels
in a missing limb,
the itch, the ache, the throb,
even the clutch of muscle flowing through him
from what’s not there—as faith
must feel to true believers. I looked again
and Earth was a beach ball, half bathed
in light, half in dark,
receding to a half dollar, a quarter, a nickel, a dime,
before it disappeared into a single spark
thrown by the sun, and the sun itself
disappeared into a field of stars,
O God! Adrift,
at last I realized I was being pulled into
a kind of black hole,
the insides of a cornucopia,
a tunnel with its sides slowly revolving,
like the inside of a gigantic whirlpool
building toward a maelstrom, spinning
faster and faster,
and I was in one of those spinning carnival rides
where you’re pressed against the interior walls of a giant cylinder
and what you stand on drops away,
about you everyone screaming. . .
or Dorothy’s tornado—that whirling gray,
bearing within it farmhouses, windmills,
familiar faces, animals,
the witch with her stocking legs riding her bicycle,
whirling, spinning—and I was a water droplet
inside a funnel,
unable to clutch anything to stop my descent,
vaguely sensing hymnal music
flooding around me, choir upon choir
of lifted voices. I couldn’t speak,
drawn toward a disk of light,
cut loose like a deuce, another runner in the night
blinded by the light.
Like most children, I used to make myself dizzy
by turning around and around
as fast as I could, arms widespread
to keep me balanced until my feet tangled
and I fell to the ground,
everything swimming, all the colors of nearby trees
blurry, all the noises vague sounds
until my head cleared. Then how the world steadied!
Everything flying back into its place,
as in a reverse motion movie
of bricks returning to a shattered wall,
an actor coming back from his own death
on some foreign soil. . . . I fell
out of the tunnel into—how can I tell you?—
an incredible garden, an impossible garden
of wildflowers, spring flowers, bamboo,
summer roses, sunflowers, miles of irises
stretching away from me in massive spokes of color,
Jessie’s Song, Witch of Endor, Barbary Coast,
New Moon, Pulsar, Quasar, Tequila Sunrise,
and trellises, tulips, violets,
tiny mayflowers alongside huge day lilies,
the scent of every evening you ever loved,
deep mountain valley scent,
velvet scent, violin trios, foxglove,
a field of Queen Anne’s Lace in the morning sun,
morning glories. . . . When my grandfather died,
the last words on his lips were, “So, it begins. . .
how beautiful, how beautiful. . . .”
In my holographic body, I stood up,
morning mist clearing. Above me the tunnel,
like a dewy spider web, a giant hanging veil,
shimmered and vanished. My name.
Someone was calling my name. So, well,
I must have taken my name with me. Two women
appeared at my side and put their hands in mine,
women I’d always known yet did not know until then,
who’d died years before me,
who loved me, who I’d loved and always would.
they led me toward a small gardener’s shed
or was it a small cottage
beside the garden wall? I had to duck my head
(what a strange expression!)
to enter. Inside
they had me sit in a wobbly wooden chair. Then,
kneeling beside me, started to explain
what had happened and was going to happen. . . .
As if from a great remove, as if novocained,
my whole body numbed, I only bowed,
only vaguely understanding
but so calmed, I only nodded
because it was so natural to be warmed
and comforted by their voices, their obvious love.
“But first, before your journey, your neykhor,
there are those who wish to see you. To do so,
they’ve taken on the forms by which you remember them.”
Standing, letting their graceful hands flow
down their bodies as they smoothed the ripples
of their long Quaker dresses,
they stepped back from me. “Smile!”
I heard, and at arm’s length before me stood
my mother’s brother, dressed in a running suit,
who stepped aside and revealed
my mother, lovely, in her thirties,
eyes brimming with tears. “Nothing profound,”
she said, “just this: it’s all appearances
and you must be strong.”
Speechless, I nodded. After her,
grandmothers, grandfathers, a whole throng
of lost high school friends,
the poet Frederick Morgan saying “I told you so,”
as he had long ago, one morning we’d shared
bacon and poached eggs in a New York city bistro.
More colleagues and neighbors. Most simply sighed
and squeezed my hand. Some few
said things like “Noon flowers”
or “Watch out for the Pass of Strangers”
and one, a roommate from a college year,
matter-of-factly told me, “Whatever you expect
won’t be what you expect. In the Bardo, Man,
you’re up the creek
at the same time you’re down,”
or something like that. So many.
I had not thought death had undone so many.
At the line’s end
scores of familiar-looking strangers,
each saying “Thank you” for something I once did,
and had forgotten. No deed unrecognized. My last greeter
gave me an embarrassed hug
before she, too, pushed past me and disappeared
into the garden. No man is an island.
O where have you been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Look down, look down, that lonesome road.
I felt myself floating,
first a foot off the ground, then higher,
so it seemed I was slowly gliding
over a Vermont maple forest at the peak of autumn color,
a small wind carrying me across yellows and reds,
oranges and stubborn deep greens—even higher
up into the mountains, a few snowflakes
begining to cling to the higher boulders,
ridges and peaks. And the wayward wind
is a restless wind. . . . They call me the wanderer. . . .
I was born the next of kin. . . .
Slowly, the snowstorm thickened as I was blown
across swaths of dark blue sky.
“Nooo. . .” I heard a man’s voice moan,
“Nooo. . .” A hand brushed my thigh,
another clung to my wrist a moment,
a third shoved me over,
sending me tumbling into a dusty pit
of ghostly bodies forming into torsos,
heads and Dantesque faces.
Yet this was no Inferno.
It was the afterlife my own thought led me to,
for what we imagine will be (after we die)
comes more or less true,
each earthly religion having grasped a part of it,
all of them met here
in what was about to happen to my spirit,
the intangible puff of me
that had already lived so many times before
as monk and beggar, whore and Pharisee,
soldier, priest, peasant, slave, abandoned child,
murderer, good wife,
and, now, in my last life, just flesh and blood
of no consequence
beyond the immediate—an ordinary man
living a small town existence of nothing special,
a cowardly being, neither bad nor good.
© Dick Allen