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A Modern Faust
A great amorphous flapping
Goose-down glued on
Cut-out paper angels blow
Trumpets of yellow gold
The doors are opening!
The doors are opening!
Onto another antechamber and another
A kaleidoscope image unfolding
Nothing in the middle
But finally, the last door opens, and there He is
On His deathbed
God with an IV stuck in His arm
Laboring breaths into an aspirator
Angel nurses cluster thickly round,
With white hats,
With red crosses.
“Come here,” hisses one angel to another
“I think He’s going to say
His final words.”
God parts His wizened lips.
He raises one shaking finger.
But as the jostling crowd
Gathers round His bedside,
One young seraph trips over the cord
And pulls the plug.
Part I, Act I
Farah buried alive. Farah drowning.
Farah falling through the thin air
To land in an avalanche. Farah has taken,
These days, to sleeping under her bed.
While she sleeps, a swarm of white mice
Watch over her and keep her from harm.
In exchange, she leaves food around her apartment
For them to find. Her roommates hate this.
Farah is a good student, a good daughter.
Good elder sister, good
In the ways that don’t matter
Part I, Act II
How to do it, that was the question.
Round white capsules waiting in the bathroom cupboard
To blossom her tongue into black hole?
Or a sweet slit, the arteries unbound
Free to flow as the laws of gravity ordained
Little twigs turning up new leaves
Phosphorescing in the tubwater?
No, too messy.
Farah was clean.
Perhaps a fall
Would do it,
Part I, Act III
He was, of course, a businessman.
He knew how to craft contracts,
Slip nooses, snip strings,
Shatter clean plaster with a careful push.
He was wearing a suit when they met, and he knew
Just how she had always wanted—
How badly she wanted—
Gave her a who she wanted
As a settlement, she received her own life and another’s:
Marius. They were walking past the pool
(All calculated, she knew now,
But too late, didn’t make a difference)—
When her eye was caught in window glass
A sun-warmed form, diving swanlike
Slicing crystal ripples, a showy fish
Seething, sea-foam in his bowl,
With heaving gills
And big brown arms, and big brown eyes
(The Devil had blond hair, black eyes,
And wore a suit).
Part I, Act IV
They were so gently in love,
Farah and Marius, like all the famous couples
They did all the things they shouldn’t—
Bit each other’s lips,
Slept on frozen rooftops,
Undressed in dark classrooms,
Clenched each other’s necks,
Ran drunken through the city,
Stole bits of silk from stores,
Grasped and screamed in public.
A plastic slippage saved all, so Farah’s belly wouldn’t swell,
And Marius could keep swimming. They swam together now
Circling eels, plunging, embracing in the clear suffocation
To test how long they could hold their breath and Marius wanted
Them to drown together, hot and flushed, but Farah was too scared
She wrote him suicide poems and said it was enough for now.
Part II, Act I
“The clay is vile,” said Farah to the Devil.
“I want to see everything and go everywhere”.
And so they took a road trip
In his big black Cadillac, down the highway into the mines.
He held the door for her with a smile
And it was a carnival down there, in Hell
Neon paintstripes peeling on the plywood
Crooked hallways—crooked stairs—crooked ceiling
And the roots of a big tree dangling lightbulbs, flickering,
Showing her the creatures there
Antlers, candlewax flesh dripping from matchstick bones
Too few fingers, eyes or too many
She shrank back, but the Devil laughed, and shoved them back with his cane.
His skin was gnarled wood now, and branches grew from his skull
Short and stooped, ancient as the world
But kinder, it seemed here, and wiser
He wanted to protect her. “Step into this room”,
He said, “And let him tell you your future.”
The door was zebra, hanging from one hinge
Farah stepped inside and screamed.
A giant hand, scuttling back and forth, in a track of dirt
Eye on its back, lashes like spider legs, all shining black,
Beetle-wing black—“Don’t be afraid,” the Devil said,
But she was, and he brought her home, and Marius
Had to hold her tight that night.
Part II, Act II
They were waiting, hand in hand, to board the balloon
Pastel, floating in the polka-dotted velvet, with the other tourists
The Devil in a pinstriped suit and megaphone, ushering the Chinese
And the French, and the anxious families with the crying children
“Just wait a moment, please, just need some routine maintenance,
If you’d please form a line there—“
A rope ladder, dangling from the clouds, Tantalizing
Wisps of strawberry perfume floating.
Marius was by her side and they were kissing with closed eyes
Bathing in sweet anticipations and then it lifted
And they were racing, stumbling after the ladder as it rose up, up.
Her dad waved from on high, the Devil smiling at his shoulder.
“Farah! It’s so lovely here. Come on up!”
Part II, Act III
The child was born, a wine-bottle baby
Pink as roses, brown eyes, a gurgle like a brook
And they loved her so, but to watch her grow!
So fast, too fast!
Slipping, cutting, swimming through the years
“Stay, my darling, stay,” the careful parents chorus
Bowing branches, encircling, desperate weak—
“No, I will be free! To cut my thighs and paint my eyes
To climb!” A college girl now like Farah had been
But not a good girl, not
In the ways that mattered.
Thumb and index spread for anyone
A brain ablaze, kicking down the doors
Running through streets even when the light was green for cars
Laying on the yellow dotted line, canary in the mine.
“Darling, come home, we love you!”
No swimming now, a tight-woven cloth,
Well-swept floors, and the Devil a dinner-guest every Sunday.
She took the needles, took the pricks and pills, screamed Ecstasy!
Euphoria, exquisite, and in her coffin she was exquisite still.
Part II, Act IV
Marius long dead, with liquid lungs,
And now Farah lies alone
The mice are gone and tonight it is the Devil
Who watches her sleep
Under the bed, under the cold white stars
A crumbling husk, a paper tomb
Where still the spirit lingers
Fed by silver threads, the electric pulse.
He is old now too, weathered skin,
Worn-down horns, her last lover, a hand on hers,
A whisper in her ear—
“They are only penitents, down in the Ash’s roots, in the Funhouse.
I am not cruel, I do not keep them long. And Heaven—
Awaits you, dear, where swans glide on glass and
The light unfolds, unfurls,
Opens the final door.”
Epilogue in Heaven
After fifty years paying for her sins
In a dirty crooked melted-candle body
Farah’s soul coiled out from her eyes
Sloughed off the skin and let it lie
And rose up to her heaven as a wisp of smoke
Shining, sprouting feathers,
Breaching the cumulus and joining the rising songs
Father, mother, sister, lover, daughter,
All one, all sitting by the campfire, under the amber pine
In the clear sunset, laughing, and telling stories, running
Into the outspread arms, again and again.
Epilogue in Hell
And in a mineshaft the Devil, skin of wood, and old
Wrapped a rope around his neck and jumped.
He had set his inmates free, the cells were empty
In the flickering lightbulb glare, sparks soon to dry out.
The ashtree dead, and he was
Swinging, unneeded, a forgotten doll,
But still thinking, unable to die with
No soul to speak of, just gathering dust, waiting for nothing,
The mice coming once again to swarm,
To take a look, then to turn away.