I shared a favorite poem by Steve Kowit in the service on 08/09/2020 and received requests for the text. The University of Tampa Press and Steve’s wife, Mary Kowit, kindly granted permission for us to post the poem. The poem is included in Cherish: New and Selected Poems (2015), and can be ordered using this link.
by Steve Kowit (1938 – 2015)
I died and went to hell & it was nothing like L.A.
The air all shimmering and blue. No windows
busted, gutted walk-ups, muggings, rapes.
Hell isn’t anything like Ethiopia or Bangladesh or Bogota:
Beggars are unheard of. No one’s starving. Nobody
lies moaning in the streets. Nor is it Dachau
with its ovens, Troy in flames, some slaughterhouse
where screaming animals, hung upside down, are bled & skinned.
No plague-infested Avignon or post-annihilation Hiroshima.
Quite the contrary: in Hell everybody’s health is fine
forever, & the weather is superb—eternal spring.
The countryside all wildflowers & the cities
hum with commerce: cargo ships bring all the latest
in appliances, home entertainment, foreign culture, silks.
Folks fall in love, have children. There is sex
& romance for the asking. In a word, the place is perfect.
Only, unlike heaven, where when it rains
the people are content to let it rain,
in Hell, they live like we do—endlessly complaining.
Nothing as it is is ever right. The Astroturf
a nuisance, neighbors’ kids too noisy, traffic
nothing but a headache. If the patio were just
a little larger, or the sunroof on the Winnebago worked.
If only we had darker eyes or softer skin or longer legs,
lived elsewhere, plied a different trade, were slender,
sexy, wealthy, younger, famous, loved, athletic.
Friend, I swear to you as one who has returned
if only to bear witness: no satanic furies
beat their kited wings. No bats shriek overhead.
There are no flames. No vats of burning oil
wait to greet us in that doleful kingdom.
Nothing of the sort. The gentleman who’ll ferry you across
is all solicitude & courtesy. The river black but calm.
The crossing less eventful than one might have guessed.
Though no doubt you will think it’s far too windy on the water.
That the glare is awful. That you’re tired, hungry, ill
at ease, or that, if nothing else, the quiet is unnerving,
that you need a drink, a cigarette, a cup of coffee.