Honorable Mention: On Clarity

If you can imagine heaven as a room full
Of family and friends, of heroes and lovers gathering
All around you, throwing all of their arms around you,

Telling you all of those things you so desperately
Need to hear, and all of those things that are, in fact, the truth;
And all of them appear to be beautiful and strong and generous

Because, in fact, they are; and all of them teach you
All of the things you never could master, and you master them-
Opera, astrophysics, carpentry-instantaneously

Understanding the grace and skill they require;

Then you might be able to imagine hell as that same room
With the same people doing the same things for someone
Else, and when you enter they refuse to acknowledge

Your presence because, in fact, they haven’t the slightest notion
Of who you might be or once was;
And their ignorance of you is eternal, and you

Have nowhere else to go. So, you take a chair
And sit in the corner and observe. You become an eternal
Observer, the perpetual outsider, and in your infinitesimal solitude

You grow angrier and angrier, you yell and kick and scream
Until your voice gives way to nothingness, your sight
Gives way to darkness while you remain utterly aware

Of these facts and wholly powerless to change them. And so

You resume your chair, which you’ve now turned
To the wall and you stare at the darkness of your blindness,
You speak to the lost voice that carries nowhere,

And you begin again recreating the lives you once glimpsed
When you first imagined heaven as that room
In which, in fact, everyone loved you, every single one of them.
Alexander Long’s third book Still Life won the 2011 White Pine Press Poetry Prize. A chapbook, also titled Still Life, won the Center for Book Arts Chapbook Competition in 2010. With Christopher Buckley, he is co-editor of A Condition of the Spirit: the Life & Work of Larry Levis (Eastern Washington UP, 2004). Long is an assistant professor of English at John Jay College-City University of New York, and is currently between bands.

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