“what happens when i die?”
By: Dean Gessie
You will participate in an estate auction wherein the contents have moral and probative
value and no one has the right to grandfather ownership.
We are the world We are the children
You may purchase handguns for boys or crotchless panties for girls.
Having my baby What a lovely way of saying How much you love me
Or you may procure the blindfold of Lady Justice and use it for plea bargains and
I turned around
She said, Hang the rich
Or you may buy nine billion land animals for factory farm slaughter and stream the
scream of each through noise cancelling earbuds.
We had joy
We had fun We had seasons in the sun
Or you may timeshare your brothers and sisters working in Amazon fulfillment centres.
Who let the dogs out?
Or you may purchase pharmaceutical industries because the cautionary principal [sic]
has not spared the rod to save the child.
And everything under the sun is in tune
But the sun is eclipsed by the moon
Or you may option the rights to plantation songs that accompany cotton picking, cane
cutting and rice fanning.
It's home from work we go
Or you may purchase Reapers, Predators and missiles and use these to fricassee
wedding parties, schools, hospitals, markets, industries, cinemas, mosques, private
homes, public toilets and lemonade stands.
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there
Or you may refinance the Final Solution and flambé uncontacted peoples at a lower rate
Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, bra!
La-la, how their life goes on
Or you may barcode human flesh for transport and sale.
Can't read my Can't read my No, he can't read my poker face
Or you may claim a fatberg of condoms, diapers and wet wipes.
And I think to myself What a wonderful world
Or you may purchase toxic fuel or poetry.
Baseball, Hotdogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet
Or you may employ an online troll to harangue social media users with clever asterisks –
f*ck you, sh*tface
Every sperm is sacred Every sperm is great
Or you may purchase life insurance bonds and mortgage securities and reap (grimly) the
habitats and death rattles of those – like you – without opposable thumbs or blushing
You’ve got the brawn, I’ve got the brains Let’s make lots of money
Or you may purchase eight million metric tons of plastic, storm water drains and cruise
ships with glass bottoms.
Wave babies, when they're lying on the sand Wave babies and I want them in my hand
Or you may purchase online pornography 24/7 because free enterprise always finishes
with a golden shower.
Can't you hear the music's pumpin' hard like I wish you would? Now push it
Push it good
Or you may purchase coffee and pastry at a closed-loop drive-through and quickserve
emissions and landfill to a squad of cheerleaders forming a human pyramid.
Ay oh, whey oh Walk like an Egyptian
Or you may sell pandemic masks at a 300% markup and come clean with hand sanitizer
stored in vats of ghosted petroleum.
Love don't stop no wars, don't stop no cancer
It stops my heart.
Or you may terrorize black folk because their skin color and respiration create a kind of
murderous, Pavlovian spiddle in the mouths of Five-O followed by pleas for calm,
dialogue, reconciliation and replacement of sorrow songs with jubilees.
And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had
But here’s the thing:
your bid paddle is debt, credit
and bond. You will buy and
you will take moral ownership
Shiny happy people laughing
You may not crowdfund.
It’s a small world after all
Despair is ontological.
I'm starting with the man in the mirror
Suicide will be your siren call.
With the lights out, it's less dangerous
Except, of course, you’re already dead.
You can’t always get what you want
Therefore, you will get what you deserve.
Dean Gessie is an author and poet who has won multiple international prizes. Dean won the Angelo Natoli Short Story Award in Australia, the Half and One Literary Prize in India, the Eyelands Book Award in Greece, the short story prize at the Eden Mills Writers Festival in Canada and - in Maryland - the Uncollected Press Prize for a short story collection. Dean also won the Enizagam Poetry Contest in California and the Ageless Authors Poetry Competition in Texas. Elsewhere, he was selected for inclusion in The Sixty Four Best Poets of 2018 and The Sixty Four Best Poets of 2019 by Black Mountain Press in North Carolina. In addition, Dean won the Bacopa Literary Review Short Story Contest in Florida, the Two Sisters Short Story Contest in New Mexico, the New Millennium/Sunshots Flash Fiction Contest in Tennessee and (twice) the After Dinner Conversation Short Story Competition in Arizona. Dean also won second prize (of 2000+ submissions) in the Short Story Project New Beginnings competition in New York and his short story made the shortlist (of 2800+ submissions) for the Alpine Fellowship Prize in Sweden. Dean’s recent collection of short stories - called Anthropocene - won two international awards in addition to Top Three in the 2020 Paris Book Festival Competition.
“'what happens when I die?' imagines a definitive answer to that question. The majority believe or want to believe something but, of course, few of us cut our teeth on the hereafter and return to talk about it. Another line of inquiry intersected with the first: what if there is no hierarchy of evil? What if each and every one of us sloughs off our mortal coil and assumes – quite rightly – equal share for the crimes and misdemeanours of humanity? To date, human beings have caused unfathomable harm and suffering to virtually everything they touch. Even the very best among us are like race horses whose blinders are abject self-interest.
As a result, “what happens when I die?” posits a message of absolute despair for humankind, an afterlife where each of us has no choice but to accept moral responsibility for one single atrocity. Also, we are compelled to carry forward felt understanding of our crime and the moral ambivalence that produced it. The idea of an auction is merely ironic artifice. The next world will be far less kind than this one. Choice is a zero sum game where the outcome of despair is, indeed, ontological and eternal and evolutionary. We will, indeed, get what we deserve.
I introduced the song lyrics as counterpoints to the faux choices facing the dead to underscore the cynicism at the heart of the human project. We all choose entertainment of some sort – and the forgetfulness that comes with it – rather than grapple with the heavy lifting of service to others and to our living world. In fact, the inane song lyrics juxtaposed to possibilities for lasting spiritual annihilation suggest that we are only capable of absurdity in this world and the next.
Someone once asked me who the narrator of this poem is or to whom does the poet confer this great power to inflict everlasting suffering and torment on all who voyage to the opposite shore? I can only say that this someone need not be anyone. Most physicists and cosmologists will argue that the universe was and is and will be without need of a prime mover. What moral comeuppance we get will be the natural open-ended result of terrestrial wrong-doing. We will answer to no one but ourselves, the best judges of our serpent-like indifference. Ob-la-di, ob-la-da."