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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, March 13, 2017.
About this Poem 

“Ever since my father died in June 2015, I can’t stop thinking about his experience of the afterlife. The poem approximates speech and thought of folks I know in southeastern Indiana. Ever since November 2016, I can’t stop thinking about their experience of the afterlife we’re living in as well.”
—James Allen Hall

Afterlife

We’re not from here. We don’t aria, we warble. 
We wore suits to get here, rumpled by the hot car ride. 
Pumped our own gas. In Heaven two days,

still the custom shirtlessness offends.  Like it’s the g-d
French Rivera. (You say it yours.  We’ll say it the right way.) 
Nor do we au revoir. We eat without speaking, hunched over

our plates at the picnic tables. We prefer paper. 
It’s not we’re unfriendly, but its our particular
God Almighty we won’t give up. First Sunday here,

and we’re missing Shirl and Jesse, who started
smoking again. Clove cigarettes, of all things.
What Heaven don’t stock Reds soft packs? 

Then Tony stopped stopping by, on account
he works overnights at the baby factory,
low on the totem: cranial deformities. 

Well it’s a job. It’s enough to crack your heart. 

We stay up drinking slurpee-and-rums outside
the Kum & Go. Who knows how long them hot dogs
have roasted on the carriage, under the eternal heat lamp. 

Everything here is an effigy to hunger. Time moves
not at all when all the clocks are confiscated. I am terrified
I will begin to speak in the first person about pleasure. 

Stop wearing underwear to our “To Hell with Heaven”
meetings. They give us new names, say forget Louisville. 
This here’s all the village you need. We lose every day

more folks to Heaven’s gen pop. We left the earth
but the memory turns us over in its hot light. 
The Chief Risk Cherubim say unlearn the love of gravity

and then the earth can leave us back. Psychobabble mumbo
jumble. We dream of opening a garage but ain’t bum starters
nor oil changes no more. The technology outlived us. 

There’s a choice to be made between the past,
the present tense. We are failure-angels, plain
and redneck, we’re going to fall down to the earth

we can’t stop loving, find our families and touch
their faces angrily. But first we will edge with pink
and yellow peonies our graves, our graves

which remind our deaths daily: redeem us.
 

Copyright © 2017 by James Allen Hall. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 13, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by James Allen Hall. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 13, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

James Allen Hall

James Allen Hall

James Allen Hall is the author of Now You’re the Enemy (University of Arkansas Press, 2008). He teaches at Washington College and lives in Kennedyville, Maryland.

by this poet

poem

After he died, my father made
whole, I could see him next
to my mother as she smoked
on the couch, his face more alive
than at Christmas, the last time
I saw him, struggling to lift his cup. 
I knew beyond my body, now he’d died,
he could show off a row of teeth, wry

2
poem

Down on Comegys Road, two miles
from the Rifle Club that meets Wednesdays,
summer to fall, firing into a blackness
they call night but I know is a body,
in unpaved Kennedyville, not far
from the Bight, on five acres of green
organic farm, next to the algaed pond
that yields the

poem

I burn your Highland Park. I acid your Carnegie
car dealerships. Your Squirrel Hill, sheer terror
in winter. But most of all, I hate your Liberty Avenue,
the last place, one night, I saw my closest friend
saying, Wait here, outside the after-hours club. I wait,
hating your Strip,