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.”
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.
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.
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.