What Has Happened In Heaven?

(Another American Messiah Tells His Tale)

The purpose of wandering upon deserted towns
is to run into deserted people, not,
as it is commonly believed,
to allow one’s own desertedness to diffuse
through alleyways littered with anonymous metals
into the loose swing of barroom doors
down the frayed ropes of dead wells
that have absorbed the western dust as men
have absorbed the amber of the sun.

But we love to slough, to get rid of our burdensome selves
and there are some places wild enough or barren enough,
uncouth and aboriginal, places that just love dying,
that hunger for death to no certain sating,
places that can be fed and fed on the stuff.

There are people like that, too, black
and bottomless of appetite
who make great spittoons for our forgetting.
These folks, I’m told, live westwardly, or thereabouts
and will do right by your chosen currency,
be it blemished or bent or wooden or worthless.

As we Americans have discovered (and proudly),
going westward long enough is a way
of leaving death sowed in a plant row of waste behind us.
Seedless fruit for our tendered hungers.
Movement is the essential thing, consumption, trade.
Our travelogue is a manifesto of purchase.

Our dear dead ones blow off in our backfires . . .
crumb-emptied potato chip bags littered at the static roadside,
lousy with their labels’ polymorphous flavors,
residues left for dirt’s indigent tongue to lick out
(hailing back its slavered Godbless) . . .
the unwaddable inside-out silver of little souls
lost to the prairies . . . where highways form
like premature wrinkles in the forced smile
of the face of the earth.

Despite this, we have never been able to resolve oceans.

It takes an ignorant man, a man who runs
westward with his back into the sunset,
obsessing over the clumps of dead things
he scatters, the light looming off of the debris,
or how the wake persistently
chases the boat, a truly ignorant man,
to continue west into the ocean
and beyond, a man who is unaffected,
for whatever reason or disease,
by the weight of water
and can defy gravity with the acme of his stupidity
(for just a moment)
like Wile E. Coyote.

When the newspaper began advertising a position for such a man
I immediately made my application.

Of course, I began to suspect something was amiss,
snuffed the stink of contraband desperation
(which smells like the sulfur of falling
and lugs you into its gravity)
when my potential employer was not ready to meet in person
and left little notes in coffee cans or
sewn into the underbelly of my mattress
providing maps and directions and the words:
bring a pad of paper and a pen and quit your day job.

Still, a man must follow where his talent leads him,
and undoubtedly, I was trapped in the pendulous swing of this mystery
as a philosopher might be trapped
in the finite language of his philosophy.
When the call came I rushed out arse-forward,
packing beads and primed for providence,
trailing a garbage of guilts and silvered glass,
stopping only to buy dream catchers and Mexican blankets
on my 21st century style odyssey across America—
following the WalMart trail
where the limped footprints of Coyote retreated, scavenging away.
I kept accelerating as if to keep from falling over backwards
until finally I smacked into a wiry old man
and sent us both sprawling.

The Pacific chortled with shag like a damp buffalo pelt below me.

The old guy picked himself up and dusted the salt
water off his trousers and introduced
himself as Emmit and asked did I
remember the pen and paper, and
yes I did. “Good,” he said,
“now write this down,” he said
and proceeded to tell me the story of
what had happened in heaven.


“There was once a great partnership,” said Emmit, and paused,
“What I’m going to do is tell you my story. But don’t worry, it’s short.

“Once, a long time ago, there were two Gods in heaven, two Gods just starting out in the Big Business, two who had together thought up a way of marketing mankind to the world, and to get to the point, I was the other God, no lower on the totem pole, I’ll have you know.

“The way things worked . . . He did the designing, the abstract, and me, I was the God with the effable name. I did the legwork. If a universal principle needed to be written He would say, You know, we need a universal principle for . . . for entropy, let’s say, and my job would be to write the formula, hire the crews, and conduct all the construction. He would say, You know it’s gloomy over there, and I would pound out a solar system, and so forth.

“If He wanted His Presence felt below, I would ghost write a bible, trying my best to capture the essence of his ineffable egotism without blackening his raison d’etre.

“Well, who knows why such things happen, what straw finally breaks the camel’s back and squeezes it through the needle’s eye, what conceit’s fat will float up to the surface when the broth has bubbled long enough, but all of a sudden, He gets this idea that the true axis, the kernel, the metaphysical omphalos of our corporation is monotheism. It started as one of those notorious what-ifs veiled in innocent pondering, that white raiment of ideological advancement, but it blew up like a nuclear bomb into a mania, an obsession—all for the idea! The idea of monotheism!

“He felt there was a kind of purity to it, an unassailable, inarguable logic of ‘simpleness’, and what else could come of this except The Great Downsizing? And after ages and ages of wondrous destruction and restoration, I was out on the street. It was for the good of the company, He said. My talents were wasted on busy work, He said. I ought to go and start my own business, He said. He was really doing me a favor, He said, and the corporation was bigger than either of us, and must live on, as it always had, for the sake of form, for godheadliness, for the sake of sake itself.

“With me went the bulk of the angels, all laid off (or cast out as we later called it) so suddenly, so terribly that at first it all seemed a grand deific slapstick. And then it was He who said, History is written by the winners, and called that the Logos.

“And then heaven, which was once something like we’ve been pretending it is, fell into decay: the crime rates went up, gimmicks for transcendence and salvation flocked in like fat filthy pigeons, the pain of the lost began hovering like a damaged storm, atmosphere thick as soup skin, and really, the living were being stewed in their own juices, trying to live off of their own loosening flesh.

“We give the damned such a glossing over, always making up reasons for them getting what they deserved, losers and sinners all, we like to say, but damnation is waking to the truth that we are tightrope walking on the grace of a God who is sawing away with his bowie knife at the nether end. When you fall . . . well, there’s a mind out there that thought up gravity out of its love of the sight of falling things.

“What will He do? What can He possibly do without us? we said, thinking that some comeuppance was in order. But as it turned out, spirituality (for those whose hungers couldn’t be assuaged with surrogate commodities) could be manufactured cheaper overseas by Buddhists . . . who are used to nothing. He was happy to import any of this he could get his hands on, it didn’t matter that Buddhists didn’t even believe in the soul and sought freedom from samsara and the 10,000 things. “Things fall apart,” said Siddhartha, whereas our ethic had always been the passion of the spirit trapped in the crumbling, corporeal world . . . beauty transcendent only in the finite, entropy as the ultimate catalyst for the theater of selfhood . . .”


Then Emmit the Effable checked himself
and looked sternly into my eyes.

“I want you to take this all back with you and show it to the world. Make sure everyone knows the truth, because people should know why it’s all gone to hell on a hog cart.”

And with that he vanished into thin air
and I was whisked instantly into one
of the sea’s realities, one of Emmit’s
formulations of descent.

I fell like a flying fish
falling back down after a near perpetual
flight into the salty laments of the seawater
and sank heavily down to the scullery of the ocean floor . . .
it seemed miles down until my feet found some
floor to walk on, and walk I did,
crabbing all the way back along the bottom
to the beaches of the west coast,

and it was like walking in suburbia at three AM
when even the lampposts have fallen asleep
like bilge-bellied security guards paid
to keep track of a warehouse
without any wares.

It was like walking back from the Rush
after the gold was gone,
leaving nothing but a name on a claim,
some emptiness . . .
a few dented shovels and broken screens
bleeding out their ghosts, those poor ores
and lumbers amputated from the earth
by human hands to serve human hands . . .
for the sake of form, I suppose.

It was like walking back from the Land of California
to the Delta after making forty dollars
for a race record and shedding a shackle
of heaviness, a shirt collar thick with salt
only to come back
to the steadiness of sharecropping,
the plow, the stink of the old beast of the field,
the old beast of self,
back to the east, back eastward
back into the ignorant gaze of the sun
and the amber waves of grain
over which it fails
to mean anything.

My mouth began to open, spilling out words.
It was a slave ship jettisoning half its starved
and sickened cargo in mid-passage.
And America’s eyes fell on me
as the eyes of plantationers might fall on a union man
speaking at the laborers of the field.
The country raised up its great tattered flag
like a distracted glance at its wrist watch
and drifted away whistling to itself.

I wanted to carve my initials on its lynching tree
inside a little heart to show how defiant my love could be,
how when I laid down the Word, the language would cede
its thirty pieces of silver at your feet . . .
but the only word that comes to mind is


Croatoan—you know
where you can find me.

[see note on poem]