The Truth About Eternity

The happily ever after is the return to the disenchanted life. —Ruth Daniell

 

Check the refrigerator door,

the photos of your son at six, at ten,

graduating from high school,

gone, lost to the skirr of time,

 

of your wife before the pain set in—

the hikes, the ski trips, vacations

to lands with grapes and siestas,

 

yourself fifty pounds ago holding

a little boy on your lap, your arm

around a gorgeous woman with hair

the color of a midnight fairytale,

 

of Fred and Toots in Michigan standing

in front of the largest birch tree you’d

ever seen, cut down by Fred shortly

before time’s timber felled him and Toots,

 

of Dave Fick, your wife’s sailing instructor,

whose swim trunks slid south exposing sailors’

crack when he launched his boat from your dock,

and whose ashes now mix with sand and soot

in the depths of Walloon Lake,

 

of Art and Cee Culman, multimillionaires who spent

a summer laying tile in their kitchen only to realize

that what they’d learned was useless since they’d never

use those skills again before they died—and they didn’t—

 

of Bill Mackinen who taught you that no politician had

the right to define a “family” as a man, a woman, and

their children only—Bill who died watching the Tigers

route the Braves on his hospital TV, and

 

today, photos of Chuck Kinder, the best writing teacher

you ever had who, in the midst of criticizing a boring story

you’d written, fell into a raucous coughing spasm and,

once recovered, proclaimed, “that’s what happens

when you smoke seven joints in a row.”

Your refrigerator door gives the lie

to eternity—the door from whose surface

someone, someday, will remove your photos,

put them into a shoebox, and store them

on some disenchanted shelf.

 

 

The Truth About Conspiracies

 

What about those nitwits that won’t vaccinate

their kids against measles—the same screwballs

who criticize climate change deniers because

they denigrate science? Didn’t god invent jail cells

for parents who refuse to vaccinate their children?

 

What do you think happens when an

antivaccine ninny gets wheeled into

an emergency room gasping for breath

and holding her chest? Does she shout,

“Don’t touch me with that EKG!” Or,

“Keep that oxygen away from me!” Or,

“Don’t you dare take my blood!” No,

once in the ER, she becomes a big booster

of medical science. Just as there are no

atheists in foxholes, there aren’t many

antivaccine nutters in cardiac care units.

 

What about extended warranties?

A company has so little confidence

in its product that it sells you a warrantee

on top of the warrantee that already

comes with the oven, iron, refrigerator,

or the most shameful appliance of all—

the electric can opener. Isn’t a sign

of adulthood, of entrance into what Lacan

called the “Symbolic Order,” the ability

to operate a manual can opener? Doesn’t

that old-timey can opener allow us to assume

our place in Western Civilization? The truth

(and this poem is about the truth) is that

the company knows these gismos will last for years.

They play on our insecurity and incompetence: sell us

warrantees that make us pay twice as much for the widget

than it’s worth. Thank you P.T. Barnum!

 

Speaking of what lasts—every day I put cat poop

in the plastic bag my newspaper comes in

and it will stay in that plastic bag as long

as the plastic bag exists, which is forever.

Think of that—the only proof we have of eternity—

a plastic bag full of cat poop! Wait, there’s more—

 

I shave with the Gillette razor my father bought

in the thirties and used all through World War II.

Stainless steel doesn’t rust! The Gillette company

realized in the sixties that, if they kept making

this quality product, something that never needs

to be replaced, they’d go broke. So they turned to

the plastic disposables they make today that occupy

our landfills and compete for space in our oceans.

 

What about expiration dates? I get it with mayonnaise.

When green spores or brown splotches spoil its virginal

perfection, it’s time for the garbage bin. No problem there, but

everyone knows that salsa and Tobasco sauce never go bad.

They’re too hot to go bad, like my wife whose body may

be gnarled in places and is often wracked with pain,

but her essence, her bedrock goodness, her passionate

kindness and understanding will outlast any date etched

on a tombstone or printed on a death notice.

 

 

The Truth About Obituaries

 

The one time you absolutely must read

the obituary column and you can’t

because you’re dead! You will never read

what the amorphous “They” wrote about you.

And no fair writing your own obit. That’s cheating.

Talk about a conflict of interest!

 

The point of reading your obituary

is to see what others thought about you.

After all, as Sartre said in rebuke to Heidegger:

My death is not only not my ownmost possibility,

it isn’t my possibility at all. I’ll be dead!

No, my death, wrote Sartre, is some other

poor sod’s possibility (I’m paraphrasing here).

 

Someone other than me will discover my body—

maybe my sweet wife as she struggles to

find warmth in our bed only to discover

the cold hulk that was me; or some overworked

cop, called after a neighbor saw too many

newspapers bunched on my front porch;

or some luckless EMT who has to pry

my broken body out of twisted metal.

 

Will that final scribe highlight my kindness,

my fortitude in resisting the government as

a conscientious objector during Viet Nam?

Or will she focus on my disgust with academia

and the ever-dwindling psychoanalytic mirage;

my disappointments about growing up

in Cheyenne, Wyoming—a dusty, backward,

one-horse town that might as well have been

in the deep South—with an alcoholic father

and a mother who chose an alcoholic man?

Will she emphasize how ill-tempered I am

after my daily walk? How crabby I get

before dinner? Will she find some scandal

I’d forgotten or didn’t even know about?

 

As I rethink this now, it will be good

to be dead when my obit appears.

I’m with Sartre’s—let the other

deal with my demise.

 

Charlie Brice

Charlie Brice is the author of Flashcuts Out of Chaos (2016), Mnemosyne’s Hand (2018), and An Accident of Blood (2019), all from WordTech Editions. His poetry has been nominated for the Best of Net anthology and twice for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The Atlanta Review, The Main Street Rag, Chiron Review, Permafrost, The Paterson Literary Review, and elsewhere.

 

 

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