Death Is a Bribe!

Pete Segall


1) We arrived at the front line, dug in, entrenched, waited for the incoming fusillade, and turned around and left. The train ride home took years. We used the time as best we could. Some of us became gamblers. Some became surgeons. Some became astronomers of a sky seen from an unknown planet. We could not tell where we were. The residue of our better thoughts collected on the windows, looking for an escape route. The conductor sprouted weeds. The waiters in the dining car took turns blinding each other, just to make the job a little more interesting.

2) While we were away our station had been converted to a brothel. The madam sold train tickets and was fastidious about giving out correct change. I once knew a man who betrayed a ledger, she said. Precision rotted his jaw and Exactitude butchered him. A woman entered, naked but for a pocket watch clipped to her hip. The mail train is behind schedule, she said. The madam handed her a bundle of dynamite. The timetable gods will thank us for the offering, she said, sounding less than happy.

3) We weren't sure how to disperse. A group of children going to the capital to harass the governor had to demonstrate. We went off on our own with our carbines and crooked expertise. A number of us got lost, and that explains the shantytown at the edge of the botanic garden. Those who found home didn't always find the right one, but intruders make good tutors and scarecrows and insulation if you give them a clean pair of socks. In gardens birds alight. They ask about battle and inexorable deeds. The stories we tell last for days and spill over with detail. We keep telling our stories after the rapt birds have been eaten by cats. The stories are so vivid we wonder if we did in fact stay for the war. This is how divergent theologies are born.

4) And then there are those of us who find home. We help set the table and say a passable grace. Our loves find us on the porch trying to recall our geometry lessons. Do you want to walk with me to my uncle's house so we can drape ourselves in lush hypotheticals? they ask. We take jobs. We commit petty crimes. We atone publicly. Our children stupidly worship us. We are promoted in our jobs for our bravery and facility with geometry.

5) There is nothing wrong with beholding the sky, especially if it emerges across the skin of an uncovered back. Ruined men must be granted the right of erosion. The birds have plans. Hotels have plans. Geometry is an absolute faith. Believe that whatever scatters across the sky belongs there and we aren't judged harshly for not knowing better. The wicked are on the sidewalk in slippers and they are not going anywhere. We remember instinct. We remember volition. We remember what it sounds like when a train is lifted off the track by the will of its own approaching destruction. Don't shame the days. We can't imagine how hard they are trying.