The surprise is
there’s no surprise, no lake of fire or pearly gates,
just Death, the ticket-taker,
at the door, the entrance to the afterlife
blocked off by frayed velvet rope.
Death tears your ticket, and then resumes reading
his mystery novels—he can’t get enough of them.
In life, he knows when you will die, and how,
but in fiction he doesn’t have a clue, and he’s surprisingly bad
at guessing. Inside, the afterlife is a waiting room—
you take a number, play Parcheesi, page through old newspapers
and National Geographics. It’s not hell, exactly, but certainly not heaven.
Food is abundant, but strictly utilitarian,
enough to get by, bread and lukewarm water, Meals Ready to Eat, sardines.
And when they call your number, no one hesitates to go back,
not even if their past life was torture, violence, disease.
Everyone knows this is a carnival
prone to disaster, the hall of mirrors smashed by a blackshirt carnie,
kids choking on tainted taffy, but this is also the only place
for roller coasters, for fun, the only place you can carry
your newly won goldfish home in a plastic bag
though you know it will eventually die.
Front page image by Michal Janček.