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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 4: July 2020
Prose Poem: 512 words
By Robert L. Dean, Jr.

The Bus to Elysium


In that heaven which partakes most of His light
I have been, and have beheld such things as who
comes down thence has no wit nor power to write.
—Dante, Paradiso (Canto I), the Divine Comedy
I have also the Bible of Hell, which the world shall have
whether they will or no.
—William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
 

The guy at Acheron Cruises must have screwed up, because when the driver finally stops and the pneumatic doors pshish open, we’re on the highway’s shoulder, not a river, not an ocean in sight, unless you count the wheat, stretching from bus to horizon. Two corrugated sheds, twin temples to the modern rustic simple life, squat in a clearing, un-twinned only by their signage: Kingdom Hall Jehovah’s Witness; 54 U-Store. The driver smiles, and in that same Bollywood accent I get when calling about my lousy Internet connection, he says, Krishna welcomes you to Elysium. Even the Afterlife’s been outsourced.

:::

—But which is Heaven, I ask, pointing to the sheds, and which is Hell? —That is not for me to say, he says. —But you’re the fucking guide, damn it. —I am but a simple boatman. I look down the rows of empty seats. Rotting vinyl leaks ghosts of stuffing. I press two to speak with a live representative: Krishna welcomes you— —I got a boatman and a piece of crap bus. —What you see is what you get. Thus speaketh the fine print. Gratuity not included. I reach a finger beneath each drachma, gouge out my eyes, and tip the driver.

:::

How often I have passed these same stupid shrines, laughing at the vision of some dumb dead bastard scratching his head at the joke the cosmos has played on him as he tries to decide if eternity can be crammed into a rented 10x60, and if so, what’s the cost, or whether to head for the Motel 6 version of the Pearly Gates. I scratch my head. But what’s the deal with the wheat? —Or so thinks the guy standing next to me on the blacktop. I hadn’t noticed him on the bus. I gaze into the coins where his eyes should be, see my image stamped upon the silver, upon his face, upon a thousand faces, gazing back.

:::

A million me’s scratch our heads. What we see is what we get. But we don’t get what we see. I’s press two but find myselves in a million dead spots. I’s think among myselves, find a zillion minuscule discrepancies in how I’s got here, right down to the color of the bus, whether the boatman’s shirt was checked or plaid, whether there was a shirt, a boatman, a bus. Some I’s mull over multiple universes, schizophrenia, cloning. But on one thing all I’s agree: myselves didn’t see myselves coming. In the clearing, a pillar of fire and dust. By day, by night, it leads me’s beyond the U-Store, the Kingdom, the horizon. A plague of mammon-eyed locusts, I’s descend upon the wheat.

Robert L. Dean, Jr.
Issue 4, July 2020

is the author of two books: a poetry collection, At the Lake with Heisenberg (Spartan Press, November 2018), and The Aerialist Will Not Be Performing, ekphrastic poems and short fictions after the art of Steven Schroeder (Turning Plow Press, 2020).

His writings have appeared or are forthcoming in Chiron Review; Flint Hills Review; Heartland! Poetry of Love, Resistance & Solidarity; I-70 Review; Illya’s Honey; KYSO Flash; MacQueen’s Quinterly; Red River Review; River City Poetry; Shot Glass; The Ekphrastic Review; and the Wichita Broadside Project. His work has been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net anthology award; he was a quarter-finalist in the 2018 Nimrod Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry; and he read at the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival and the Chikaskia Literary Festival in 2018 and 2019.

Dean has been a professional musician, having played bass for, among others, Jesse Lopez, B. W. Stephenson, Bo Didley, The Dallas Jazz Orchestra, and the house band for the Fairmount Hotel Venetian Room. He grew up in Topeka and Wichita, Kansas before spending 30 years between Los Angeles and Dallas, where he worked at The Dallas Morning News. He now lives in Augusta, Kansas, and serves as Event coordinator for Epistrophy: An Afternoon of Poetry and Improvised Music held annually in Wichita.

 
 
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