No matter the cause…whether the fishbone
That lanced his oesophagus, the whole bottle
Of gin that his wife Liz forced him to own,
Shrieking, “It’s water, fool—drink! Don’t throttle
Me!”—for he’d seized her by the neck, the crone—
Fake fright while she tried to drown him! Ha!—not till
Hell froze over would he let her kill him thus,
In front of their guests, with no blood or fuss!
2No, no matter…or if it was the fall,
Spluttering and flailing, headlong, down the stairs
To the basement, where guests and family, all,
Followed him, shouting, singly or in pairs,
“Water!” “Sit him up!” “Air!” “Lay him down!” “Call
911!” “Look! His head—blood!” “Oh, who cares
About the carpet, Liz? He’s turning blue!”
“He’s stone cold—he’s dead!” Which is nothing new.
3No matter if the bone, the gin, the fall, or—
The poisoned soup Liz had served him alone!—
Oh, God! He should have guessed by the pallor
Of her face, or, when she said, “enjoy,” her tone:
Pure hate. No spice of old love or valour
Flavoured their late-middle-age. The kids had flown,
Sex grew dull, so what was a girl to do?
Murder for insurance cash! (Nothing new.)
4No matter now: he, Ian Waunt, was dead.
He stood, a ghost unseen, over his body
And blinked like someone fallen out of bed—
Strangely awake and weirdly roused; odd the
New sensations filling his brand-new head.
So this was the afterlife. Well, by God, he
Kind of liked it. He’d expected torment
And fire, but this was more like retirement.
He watched the scene unfold. His corpse, cried on,
Stared at, kissed and hugged, slept its sleep. He got bored.
What was the fuss? He was fine—not fried on
Any stovetop in hell or else strumming chord
After dull harp-chord of God’s praise. Tried on,
His ghost-body fit well and functioned. No sword
Of fish-skeleton could bloody him now.
Farewell pain, kids, mortgage, work, marriage vow!
With a liberty never known while living,
He grasped, with a bang on the head of Zen
Satori, his new state—that of not giving
A fig about anyone, not even
God, and death as paltry as a bee sting:
He shot up the stairs with a yelp of glee
And ran onto the street in ecstasy!
Yet, there, rain dripped composure on his mood
And he felt the September afternoon,
Summery despite cloud, become imbued
With weird, sudden gravity…and heard a tune,
Or unholy humming, abruptly spew it-
Self, or spiral, like bees (nay, like a lun-
Atic’s hopeless moaning), from the mailbox—
Or like the sounds of hounds heard by a fox.
8Inside? A letter addressed to I. Whaunt.
His ghost-hands shook, his ghost-heart doubled its beat
As he read God’s rebuke of his heart’s vaunt:
“SO YOU’VE JUMPED THE CRUISESHIP TO HELL, HEY, YOU CHEAT?
WELL, YOU WON’T LAST LONG IN LIMBO TO FLAUNT
THIS FLOUT. JUST SEVEN DAYS. ENJOY YOUR FEAT
OF CUNNING, OR BOTCH. THE STOPOVER’S SHORT.
NO ONE CHECKS OUT OF THE DEVIL’S RESORT.”
That, sadly, was more like it. He was doomed.
It was quite fair, given the scope of his sin,
To have to face whatever horrors loomed
At the end of this week. The wicked don’t win,
After all, although happily subsumed
In a sea of pleasure while they live, chin-
Deep in luscious delight, drunk on it, mad
With grand wicked rich fun, oh! how…er…sad.
So he’d suffer forever: that was that.
No sense, now, dreading the inevitable.
Keen for a lark, at the drop of a hat,
He set off now—a man, not a vegetable,
After all—to gorge on the grease and fat
Of sin, habitually incorrigible
And too late now to feel bad about it,
Thank God (who felt bad Himself, and pouted).
He climbed in his Toyota and revved well
The engine and fled, driven by and driving
On to the world, the flesh and the devil,
That unholy trinity, darkly thriving
In Victoria, BC—home of level-
Headed, agnostic, amoral, conniving,
Polite, decent-seeming, swinish, well-intent-
Ioned folk; also a tax-mad government.
He burned up the old streets he knew so well—
The highways, side-streets, back lanes, and scenic routes
That now served, all, as paths to lead him to hell—
And selected his first stop. A bullet shoots
Out of a gun slower than he, pell-mell,
Pushed his Corolla to the campus where sprouts
The tree of knowing good and ill—UVic,
Reason’s distillery, thought’s alembic!
In that grove of giant firs he had swung
From branch to branch of knowledge, as drunk on books
As his old high-school friends (who’d now begun
To work for a living) were drunk on quick fucks,
Smokes, drinks, parties, movies, money—the fun
The working man earns himself after he locks
Up shop and cashes his cheque. Only fools
(His friends said) load their lives with books like mules.
He now believed they were right, his old friends,
Now, as he stood glumly on the campus grounds,
Rueing his youth, unable to make amends
For it, for he was dead. Oh, the past confounds
The grown man, who is the fruit of how he spends
His youth. The old fox, growing tired, feels the hounds
Of bitterness snap at him: oh, the hate
For the boy whose choices now rule his fate.
A shy, scared kid when he came here, he left
More scared and shy than when he started—also
Jobless, hopeless, friendless, confused, bereft.
(Thus self-pity sang its sickly falsetto
In his ear. He hated it. Cursing, he left.)
Driving, he thought the spike of a stiletto
Was piercing his heart. The image was apt.
For his next stop, he would need no map.
Lust is a drug that deepens the disease
Of unhappiness in the heart, as Shakespeare
Said in sonnet form. Mere I, if you please,
Will sermonize in ottava rima here
About the sins of the flesh, viz., striptease
Shows our own unhappy Mr Waunt, I fear,
Watched, hour after hour, the wicked sinner—
A sick man at an unwholesome dinner .
He takes a back table. He feels relieved.
Academic failure? Social unsuccess?
Relax. These girls are not to be believed!
Look at that one in the skin-tight satin dress!
Look what lots of surgery has achieved!
Off comes dress and all! Oh, what tits! What an ass!
What an ass…. He sighed. Conscience, unimpressed,
Mailed his lust-yelp to a cancelled address.
18It was more unwelcome news—the brute truth.
This nude bar was a place not of fulfillment
But of frustration. No ticket booth
Sold trips to carnal Paradise. That figment
Of youth faded and he ached like a tooth.
The girl wagged her fabulous fundament
But he stood up and made straight for the door.
He felt he was back where he was before.
Where to now? He was low and, yes, hungry.
(The illusion of life extended to that.)
Time was short, cash thin, so I think you’ll agree
That, though its fare tastes like what someone has shat,
McDonald’s is the only place poverty
Does not prevent you patronizing. He sat,
Ate, drank, sulked, sighed, felt utterly unfulfilled.
Appetites didn’t answer. Joy was distilled
20In deeper parts of the human soul, and words,
When they worked, and didn’t bore, could take you there.
He bought a book, found a park bench where birds
Pecked, heckled and hovered; one crapped in his hair.
But he ignored them, disregarded their turds—
He read a few lines and forgot his cares.
He was lost in literature, his old pastime,
It was Byrne by Burgess; he didn’t waste time.
21He read it through thrice, and felt slightly better.
He learned, in a way, sort of, to almost spurn
His fate, the pinch of the devil’s fetter
On his ankle, the fact it was almost his turn
To don infernal garb, a flaming sweater,
Molten shoes, so forth, and forever to burn
Because he’d been bad and had naughty urges—
But at least he’d read lots of Anthony Burgess.