Intro to Hell This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

February 2, 2010
By , Bradford, PA
Why am I not used
To this I ask
Myself cleaning
Out the milk
Bottle like the ones
I used to drink
As a child. After all,
It was only six
Years ago I was going
Through this all
Myself. Why do I not
Have the mechanisms
Set? Or rather do I
Wish not to remember
How it felt when the feeling washes
Out the composure of life’s
Concentration on the details
Thrown in the rush the race
The upheaval of all concern
When death has had its way
I’ve set myself apart.
Although I wish
There could be someone else to blame
I’m convinced because I cannot escape.
While they calmly live and breathe
I stare it in the face.

I’ll tell her I don’t want to go.
But then I remember
Neither did she
But then I thought that was because
She was indifferent. Sometimes I try to remember
When I’ve thought about the same
Thought in another language. It’s difficult
To remember what made me think of it
That way. I know
She didn’t want to admit the whole
Thing until this morning.
I saw her crying.

It was six years ago
And today I sat
At the table with
A group of old timers
Talking about their friends,
Moms dying and the one
Man said, Now don’t you
Want to start a conversation
That isn’t about dying?
It isn’t exactly what young folks are always
Thinking. We have nothing else to talk about.
I was taken aback
Because that’s exactly
What I was thinking, all I could say
Was, “Well, in fact, we do,”
And move on. I didn’t even think
Sitting at that table
How could they not know-
Already no one remembered
That far back
Six years ago,
Either that or dying
Old to them was different
Than dying young.

My friend argued today how tones
In Sylvia Plath’s poems
Are subjective;
She lost two points on a quiz
For calling the author “amused”
When she should have been “disinterested”
By the blood gushing from her finger,
But that was not the right answer.
The girl sitting next to me
Could not keep off the subject how she killed herself;
I found her interest crudely suggestive.
She boasted of arguing how it had happened,
The sly scheming still in her face.

She seemed ambivalent and even critical
Up until the last days. But quickly
there was the planning, loose slips
of taxis, times to make. When I came home,
she was showered, making plans
on the phone, what can you do
When there is so much yet to come?

My teacher asked me today where I was going:
I honestly don’t know.
Is it somewhere fun?
I could honestly say no.
And a teacher I don’t know
Asked me if I was ok:
Yes, just all of a sudden,
Tomorrow I was going on a plane.

What is hell like?
Does the literature even say?
Is it really a fiery inferno,
A city of the lost, New York or Chicago,
Shopping carts on windswept streets,
A place for souls that have strayed
When they asked for nothing
More than a little allegory?
Something, say a little a posteriori?
I wouldn’t have asked you
To hang yourself for losing
Something you’d never had
To begin with. I can’t ask
God to go bring me back the
Garden. Can I just say that even
Moral judgments are made
In Hell? If there is one to argue
For it even among the living
These bold thinkers who shy
Away from death. A science,
They’d call it. We’re ok with not
Heeding the status quo, as long
As we’re not punished for it. It’s
Sufficient to be free, fear will do
The rest. Is it God’s grace to save us
From the flames of something
We could not stand up to, anyway?
I’d like to think that, yes, one
Who cannot see the flames
Would not feel them,
Or at least not know that they are feeling
More than some hot sand.
Do our tears mean anything to Him?
Or just that tiresome tepid watering,
Possibly, it grows on all of us.

I used to think when I was little
My family was damned, I used to pray
For them because none of them professed a faith.
While my pastor proclaimed
At the altar the salvation of the Almighty Gospel
I used to sit there and think of my family
Rotting in hell, my aunts, my cousins,
My grandmas, grandpas, old uncle Greg,
Dragging through misery. It was seldom
That we saw them anyhow;
I had to get on the plane
To Chicago, to Seattle, now,
Because I would not see them for eternity.
That’s what the colored bibles told me.
Now I don’t think of them so much;
Faith doesn’t give me reason to pray
For them but still I see them more clearly,
Different, to see people’s faces, not their souls.

When I think of death, I think of hell.
Heaven is irrelevant, to the discussion
Of our fears. If it’s there, fine;
If I can make it, even better.
What if Hell exists?
Then I know
That my spot has not been taken.
But at least while I’m alive, it’s hard to die
Knowing that all life,
Everything I’ve lived for,
Fought for, cried for, died for,
Is ultimately unfair.
Fair would be nothing,
An equal pall of empty
Air settling over all. Free handouts
Of unusually light first-aid kits.
It’s more economical
Than giving everyone everything.
Even the world doesn’t
Work that way. You know, this isn’t heaven.
“Fine, you can’t agree
On how to share? Then neither
Of you gets anything,” says the mother,
Finally fed up with her two
Quarrelling children.
I wouldn’t want to believe at this point, either,
That there had been another option.

I’m on a plane tomorrow.
He’s dying but all we can think about
Is the next day. Everyone running
Around. His death is our chance
To escape; he’ll be all alone
Once everyone’s done
Finishing the plans they’ve made.
There is no comfort or solace,
For the man who just wants peace
As his life slips away,
Everyone becomes more anxious,
Waiting for a show to happen.
The face of the dying man dims, but death becomes
It’s own anticipation and distress;
None can face it
Alone, for what it is,
Instead we make it something
For ourselves, in our own way.
He is by himself, even when he’s waiting,
Behind the curtains,
Already on the stage.

To himself, he thinks,
Though I am old I will not slay
Any dragons, like heroes who find time
Still while they are young,
I will live to see the flames
Eat me while I die.
The fairy tales forgot those dragons.
I should write my own,
If I had the time, or the wit.
Even those young heroes
Never penned their own tales.
My arm hangs in the rafters,
It’s all that I can do not to leave it there.
Please, take it.

I was asking for it all to stop today,
It was coming too fast
But I knew it already,
Six years ago.
I wanted to be there
When it happened,
But I never wanted to go
So badly, just so I could be
Somewhere else, if it makes sense,
Away from all the living.
Uncertainty is the worst,
But the sight of life,
Is unbearable, like wasted pain,
When you know what’s coming,
Unlike when he died on my birthday.
It’s cold, it’s alone, it’s not about this or that or them or me.
There’s too much to be pitied,
While nothing is worth caring for.
Impatience explodes,
I’d really rather strangle
This or that or them or me.

That night I ate spinach
And stamped around looking for
The dog who was supposed to be
Outside. I watched him quietly
Getting his watch and his things
Like he was going to work
Again but really he was
Going away. He was young but he was old.
It had been that way for a while. Some people
Take pride in their age, but they think
It takes everyone sixty years.
What kind of man lives
Less or more than his time?
I never thought that that was a fair
Saying. There’s hope when you’re
Young but not when your time’s
Maxed out the predictions.
I find hope destructive, knowledge
More oppressing. The man
In his suspenders looks at me
From behind his bifocals;
Perhaps they give him a better
Perception of my morals. But his position
At the table and his wide eyes
Staring straight into me tell me
I’m a guest, that is all.

When we die young, do we feel old,
And when we die old, do we try
To die young? Can resisting
With the lusty fight of youth
Save us from death? Some think
Death is easy
For the young, it makes me think
Life has become more common
To the dead. The story of our lives
Never gets old. If we test the limits
Of our abilities, like Superman,
Then maybe all we have to fear
Is a wolf, a leopard and a lion
That roars. If not, then death
Will play its part, unaided.

Unfolded pockets,
A gunshot, disease,
Isolating in linked chains,
(Preferably they should quiet down).
Secrets whispered in cold incongruity.
Deserted castle, hollow, hanging
Bones, the empty moor,
A despairing soul,
Looking out into the sea, hiding in the forest,
Conspicuously. The world runs for its life,
The flesh hides its face.

I wish you could remember,
You who loved that art,
That I would not invent that part,
Because I knew that was what
The fantasy was worth,
And forever you’d be sure.

There was a girl sitting behind me
In the library, as I was trying to read
An epic
Of pagan Christian heroes,
She asked the one across
From her, “How is intro to hell?”
Interesting, I thought, I wonder
What that class
Could be about? Until I realized
That what I had thought
They meant was not
At all what they were thinking.
They wouldn’t teach a class
Called Intro to Hell,
But how many people were signed up
for Intro to Health?
It’s too much to guess, I thought,
But maybe the school board knows
What’s conversazione sicura
Would not have appealed
To someone like Dante.
Hell is in the pulpit, in the public parks.
Better to teach them body parts.





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