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Paradise Mislaid

by David Barber

Imagine — how can you? — Hiroshima and Auschwitz
lasting for eternity. What slip, what unrepentant
lifetime of wrong deserves such punishment?

In the Middle Ages a stretch in Purgatory
might only be a century of helpless pain
before the pale and trembling inmates

were released again, heirs to night sweats
and post-traumatic stress. Heaven’s
sanatorium is cool and vast and calm

with aeons of wheelchairs on quiet lawns
where angels, arrayed in white, gently
minister with soothing hands the broken.

Or a switch could be flicked to make all well,
which makes you doubt what the newly seamless
soul has learned. They were warned of Hell

and the consequence of jumping the rails,
though Lucifer wondered if it was, well...
immoral. There were protests, the rumble

of angelic dissidents. You know the story:
Blacklists. House arrest. Gulags. And so they fell.
Better to reform in Hell than be complicit in Heaven.

The Inferno is not so bad these days. Sulphur
and brimstone free; lakes of fire mostly doused.
Plaques preserve the terrible history of the place.

Serial killers have to be confined and Hitler
is in protective custody. The old demons,
like the guards at Belsen, deny it all,

lost things howling in their padded cells.
Mainly it means facing your victims, telling the truth
and counselling by angels who have seen it before.

Without the smiting though, no one gets out.
The door has slammed. The divine plan refers
to the universe, not just Man. Lucifer

has all this paperwork, running social services.
The staff are brave but tired; sometimes
it is an uphill struggle. Out in the Projects

the damned seem their own worst enemies;
this is Hell after all, nor are they out of it.
And some days Lucifer misses God so much.

Did they imagine something nobler than getting up
for work each day, helping out, being fair? Who knows
what foolishness angels have fallen for.

Copyright © 2011 by David Barber

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