What other indignities must I suffer flagrantly before I find the Just City, the garden I left before I was even born? Pull up the policies, quote the terms of agreement, provide me with tables of the precise point-value breakdown before I break down or out or up or through to the other side of grievance because it’s not so much the indignities themselves as the uncertainties regarding their relative scoring: when I mispronounce peony to rhyme with pony, stressing the long O— like crony, phony, stony— how many points do I earn? When I ask the woman in the none-too-slimming black dress when she’s going to have her baby, and she tells me four months ago, how much is that worth? How much closer am I to the long-promised prospect of healing leaves and unimaginable flowers? I picture heaven as a Customer Service desk where polo-shirted personnel with name badges brocaded with the swoops and lags of a strange language laugh and chat without ever answering the bright red phones that ring without ceasing, and I can take to them all the unfulfilling moments of my unfulfilling life—like some defective pair of clunky VR goggles weighting a white plastic bag twist-knotted at the top— for a refund or exchange. They don’t ask for a receipt. They only want to know if I am ready and when I tell them I’ve been ready my whole life, the phones stop ringing, the chatter snaps off, they stare at me with something between sadness and bewildered ardor and wish me a good day and send me back into the world, which is just what it has always been: one big, beautiful garden.
Stephen Kampa is the author of three collections of poems: Cracks in the Invisible, Bachelor Pad, and Articulate as Rain. His work appears in The Best American Poetry. Recently, he was the writer in residence at the Clampitt House in Lenox, MA. He teaches at Flagler College.