“Promotion Review in the Afterlife,” “My Thieves Are Lonely” and “Odd Boy”

“Promotion Review in the Afterlife,” “My Thieves Are Lonely” and “Odd Boy”

Promotion Review in the Afterlife

After Mark Doty

“We’ve been thinking,” the angels say

 (they work for Krishna now—God knows

he’s got too much to do, what with all

that attention the rich demand these days)

“and we’re going to send you back as a cat.”

“A cat?”

I lean back in the gleaming leather chair.

On earth, I loved cats, but somehow,

high above it all or nowhere in between,

this unsettles me:

the long, slow days ahead,

the unblinking eyes, intent on murder

and on biting feeding hands.

“We tried to take into consideration

what you need to learn,

and what, in the past, you loved,

to determine how

the love informed the learning,

if the learning stopped the love.”

I think on this.

“But a cat . . . so limited

in its spatial range,

its affections so particular.

What wisdom could come

from sleeping in the sun?”

The angels sigh, lean in gently.

Their wings glisten.  For all this talk

of feathers, they tinkle as of glass.

“Sweet girl:

On earth, you lived like rushing water,

a river all in shimmer, touching every stone

and leaving none unturned, all mica flakes

and floating leaves.

You laughed loudly and so often.  You

found love in every body, watching

lovers come and go,

tossed your heart up in the sky, assuming

that, like a baby, it would come back

safely to your arms.

But you spent so many nights in the dark,

awake to failure and impossibilities, rethinking

those departures, the absence of connection,

reliving what was good as if remembering was living.

That sleeplessness—it wore you down.

Your heart—it woke you up

with beating, faster, faster,

trying to make up for what you lost

in oxygen and time.

You had a good life, love. You did.

But we think, maybe, the time for burning

in the dark is over.  We think, perhaps, it’s time

for this soul to be loved rather than love,

to kill and then be done with it,

to bite instead of feed, to rest in the knowledge

there are more lives to go.”

 “Fine,” I say, my pupils slitting,

keyholes to an unlocked future.

“I’ll be a cat.”

My Thieves Are Lonely

The charges say it all:

subscriptions to match.com,

to sex sites for acts I’ve never heard of,

and, quaintly, once, to russiancupid.com—

although the charm in the name

is tempered by the pop-ups I’ve seen.

My banker says this is a pattern:

hackers go for items easily canceled

so they can get the refund—

an industry of hook-ups,

cool dudes pretending to reach out,

only to snatch back their scheming hearts.

Love or money, money or love:

the ballad’s older than the hills of Macedonia,

where a whole town writes fake news for cash,

older than this new technology,

which breaks into security

like betrayal does a heart.

In my mind, I see them all:

slight, quiet, angry men

alone before their laptops

during a workday of wronging

or maybe even after lights go out,

the screen a better option than the world,

and I think

my debit card is not

the only thing that’s compromised.

Odd Boy

He was the odd boy, alone against the playground’s rim.

We thought him “strange” but mostly left him be,

no need to understand the difference between us and him.

I got along with everyone, not one to swim

against the tide at twelve.  Yet carelessly,

I pushed the odd boy in the hall, the playground’s rim

a border not easily dissolved, our judgments firm and trim.

Now, we’d call him “on the spectrum,” ADHD:

how fragile was the difference between us and him.

He followed me outside, his usually blank face grim,

and shoved me back.  Surprised, I turned to flee

but then I punched him, a ring forming at the playground’s rim,

other boys chanting my name, wanting me to win,

me desperate for the teacher to come and see

this terrible difference between us and him.

I am a high school teacher now, that memory far from dim,

my own autistic child curled in a ball at school, waiting for me.

Now, my son is the odd boy, alone against the playground’s rim,

me weeping for the difference between them and him.

About the Author

Bryn Gribben

Bryn Gribben has a PhD in Victorian literature and is an instructor of English at Seattle University, teaching literature, empathy, composition, and creative non-fiction, but her SU students call her their steampunk fairy godmother. She has taught at the Richard Hugo House, was the co-editor of fiction for The Laurel Review, and is currently the creative non-fiction managing editor for BigFictionMagazine. Bryn's latest work can be found in Superstition Review, The Rappahannock Review, 3Elements Review, River River, the HCE Review, and in Suitcase of Chrysanthemums, an anthology from great weather for MEDIA. Her essay "Cabin," in Tilde, published by 30West Publishing, was nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Prize.

Read more work by Bryn Gribben.