Looking for a place in case the soul
is more than just wind-melted breath, I coaxed
the devil to take me on a tour of his palace.
It was a fixer-upper but the space
has promise: knock down that burning sulfur wall
you’ve got a trendy open floor plan. Call
a carpenter to dull the sound of neighbors’
wails: it’s “cozy.” I should be a Realtor.
I asked the Prince (he asked me to address
him by his Christian name, Baalberith,
but it was only part of his well-honed
“friendly” role from Time Share 101,
so I refused) where I could brew my beer,
but he began to mumble he wasn’t sure
the lease allowed for it. The question took
him off his script and he began to look
confused, rehashing selling points off-cue.
Yes, it was hot, but he was sweating wildly.
He saw my surprise and got all teary-eyed.
He gathered himself and started on the wider
tour of his grounds. It wasn’t good. To be nice,
I feigned some mild interest—how stupid of me!
He started talking philosophically!
Free will this…original sin that…what’s worse—
he spoke it in this faux Miltonic verse!
“And I still love; despite it all, I don’t
begrudge this god my godless wandering hell.
You doubt me. I know. Once the brightest star,
I must hate him. But he left splendor here.”
(He pointed at his face to make this clear.)
“You ask me why I offered them the fruit.”
(I’d actually muttered something about Freud.)
“I promise you I felt no bliss in this.
And I ask, why was I made supplicant
to mortal flesh—filthy husk-puppets but
the shades of what’s above? Why mortify
my honor—I who once was first in beauty?”
(He gestured again to signify this to me.)
“He has his reasons, I suppose.
You ask about all this infernal fuss.
At first, some beg, and ask the same as you.
I’m pitiless against the ones who plead,
but luckily for you you’re here among
the noble atheists and pagans whose
one crime was failure in discerning signs
that he’d impenetrably peppered throughout
a wasted world. You’ll find your stay below
much the same as above: a gentle longing
for something more.
But let me quickly speak
for hell and for myself: the Eternal One
expects things done with some efficiency:
like a murder of crows, that whirlwind full
of people fluctuates for maximum pain—
doubling the bodies, swaying their arms and legs
in unpredictable directions, brutal
ballet that has a certain beauty even
if you forget that they are suffering.
Some say the noise eventually becomes
a soothing rhythm like the waves. It helps
the pagans sleep. We’ll go no closer to
the Gates of Dis. Your sins are more the Leopard
than the Lion. The Lovers are the only stop
I like. It makes me feel a justification.”
(The nudity felt like a European vacation.)
“And of course there’s me, a lover in
a sense, who longs for his absence, bound
to challenge and take blame for actions written
long ago in his enigmatic book.
I do my job, and do it well, I think.
I haven’t heard of serious complaints.
But sure. It does get frustrating to watch
you bumble and confuse what’s clear to me.
If I were man, fresh flesh, auspicious winds
washing my hair, I’d be dry cleaned, suit pressed
for eager work, and bartenders would serve
(He must have seen me dozing off.
A wistful devil’s not my type of scofflaw—)
Bof, forget it. Even if
you wanted to, you couldn’t understand.
No matter what we say, we are the same:
we need forgiveness but begrudge the giver.”
He said some interesting things,
on God and sin, but I kept focusing
on how desperately he wanted this
presentation to feel spontaneous.
We walked a little farther, to the modern
wing: no charm here just a bunch who slaughtered
others with scientific imaginations:
I started yawning loudly. Credit Satan,
he noticed and whisked me to a conference room.
He left me there and gathered himself. Alone,
I looked at pictures lining the walls of all
the presidents, evangelists, a cabal
of billionaires and college chancellors.
A sad one gave his soul for a city ward!
American photos as far as the eye could see.
Then he sauntered in clean as a sheep.
He tried so hard to be taken seriously:
He wore a tie and thick-rimmed glasses,
and gestured with his hands. There were flashes
Of brilliance—but he talked too fast
which meant he hurried past
several of the finer contractual points
I may be dumb, but I’m no idiot:
without reading, I won’t sign anything
except my iPhone’s latest Terms and Conditions.
Still, he almost sold me—the flexible
point system he mentioned in his final
effort lets you kayak on the Styx.
Yet I couldn’t move past Hell’s toxic mix:
all the moderns want to show off piles
of weapons with their serial numbers filed:
ARs, SIG Sauers, AKs and Remingtons—
Even Hell can’t regulate its guns!