Philip St. Clair

Work in Heaven

After the deathbed liberation and the network of dark tunnels
            and the luminous presence
who patiently waits, the newly-departed have to go to work.
            There’s a brief presentation
and a welcoming speech, and then they’re given a small group,
            shown their place
in a circle of folding chairs.  Then one of the older members
            hands out their assignments,
and if they resent what they’re told to do they have to stand
            and talk it out.  Someone else 
gets up, tells them that it’s not so bad: just give it a chance,
            just wait and see.  Soon everyone
is on their feet, eager to tell how offended they were
            when their orders came down
on that long first day.   It’s a primal dialectic, an integral part
            of an on-the-job training 
linked to the lesson each must learn before they rotate back
            for another awkward go at life.
It’s an effort for them to reach their earth-bound clients
            who are unaware or indifferent
as they move in the fog that borders their world and the next:
            it’s hard to be heard in the thick gray mist
whenever they have to counsel the puzzled and confused,
            whenever they need to reach
the timid and repressed.  Sometimes they wait in closed spaces
            that amplify their small, 
insistent voices: elevators and shower stalls, cars and pickup trucks
            when the GPS is silent, 
bedrooms in the middle of the night.  My mother, who’d been gone
            almost seven years, 
once came to my sister in a dream.  “Hi, Mom,” my sister said,
            “how’s heaven?” “Well, okay, I guess,” 
Mom said, “but now I’m supposed to make sure some people
            there where you are get held accountable.” 



Philip St. Clair came to Appalachian Kentucky in 1991 to teach at Ashland Community College (now Ashland Community and Technical College); he retired in 2010 and remained in the area. He is author of six collections of poetry, most recently Acid Creek (Bottom Dog, 1997) and Divided House (Finishing Line, 2005). His poems have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Harper's, The Poetry Review, and Shenandoah. He was awarded the Bullis Prize from Poetry Northwest and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Kentucky Arts Council. 


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