In The Afterlife
you’re able to watch your entire life on a screen and edit
out the parts you don’t like. You even get to add other
parts from actual movies that you do like. You splice it all
together and pick out a soundtrack, solemn strings pulsing
over sudden, low lingering tubas or something pluckier
with banjos and accordions.
Outside the studio, all you see is weeds. After a hundred
years, the voice of God speaks to you.
“See these fields?” it says.
“Yeah,” you say.
“This vastness filled with broken bottles and train tracks?”
“Yes,” you say.
“This is the basis of all Creation.”
You spend the next hundred years trying to find a pay
phone. By the time you find one, the only number you can
remember is the landline of your childhood. You take the
coin from your eyelid and drop it in the slot. You hold the
receiver to your ear, it’s heavy and smooth and hot and
smells florally antiseptic. You dial. It rings. For a hundred
Eventually, your three favorite people find you. Keep in
mind that these might not be the three people you said
were your favorite, while you were alive. They might not
be your children or spouse or parents. They probably
won’t be, to be honest.
You guys get high and talk about how the body and spirit
separate. Both are still alive, just not together anymore.
The body isn’t dead until it stops moving and it doesn’t
stop moving until it’s dust in the wind and gone. It takes
longer than you might think for the worms to do their
work. Until then, and even afterwards, that slow decay is a
life of sorts. A grim dance.
Finally, though, you really are dead and are shown a door
that leads to the next level. There, your mother sits next to
her mother who sits next to her mother and so on in a
spiral all the way to the center of heaven, where the first,
primal mother sits in shadow. All you can see are two
bright eyes and her long black feet.
The primeval mother says:
“Suffice it to say that at some point you will sink into an
astral slumber, but first you must complete your work.
After hours or centuries, you will awaken upon one of
many subdivisions, depending on your unfoldment. There,
you will commune with a higher phase of yourself, a divine
fragment. You will be nourished as you are devoured, the
dross of your nature burnt out. Follow the gleam. Abide
between incarnations. Why are you in such a hurry? You
are now able to perceive whirling atoms. Great battles are
fought and cities rise before you. The buildings are
transparent. Nothing is concealed.”
Review by Calvin Jolley
“In The Afterlife” is adept, succinct and lyrical by turn. “You will be nourished as you are devoured, // the dross of your nature burnt out. Follow the gleam,” Perkins writes.
Her lines follow the gleam.
Review by Jared Pearce
Reading Calvino’s short stories one finds a repeated mention that the world in all its materiality is, well, the world in all its materiality—that it, in fact, is not concealing anything, much like the very conclusion of Perkins’s poem. On the one hand that comment seems at odds with the way the poem unfolds—the movie editing, the telephone, the three people, the string of mothers. But, really, the poem considers that while what we think is a fake or a trick or a deception, we really betray ourselves at every turn, really reveal our insecurities and fears as we attempt to be confident and brave. Perhaps in the afterlife I’ll finally be comfortable with myself, though it might take some time and separation.