They’re moving off in all imaginable directions,
each according to his own private belief,
and this is the secret that silent Lazarus would not reveal:
that everyone is right, as it turns out.
you go to the place you always thought you would go,
the place you kept lit in an alcove in your head.

Some are being shot into a funnel of flashing colors
into a zone of light, white as a January sun.
Others are standing naked before a forbidding judge who sits
with a golden ladder on one side, a coal chute on the other.

Some have already joined the celestial choir
and are singing as if they have been doing this forever,
while the less inventive find themselves stuck
in a big air conditioned room full of food and chorus girls.

Some are approaching the apartment of the female God,
a woman in her forties with short wiry hair
and glasses hanging from her neck by a string.
With one eye she regards the dead through a hole in her door.

There are those who are squeezing into the bodies
of animals – eagles and leopards – and one trying on
the skin of a monkey like a tight suit,
ready to begin another life in a more simple key,

while others float off into some benign vagueness,
little units of energy heading for the ultimate elsewhere.

There are even a few classicists being led to an underworld
by a mythological creature with a beard and hooves.
He will bring them to the mouth of the furious cave
guarded over by Edith Hamilton and her three-headed dog.

The rest just lie on their backs in their coffins
wishing they could return so they could learn Italian
or see the pyramids, or play some golf in a light rain.
They wish they could wake in the morning like you
and stand at a window examining the winter trees,
every branch traced with the ghost writing of snow.

–Billy Collins

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2 Comments on “Afterlife”

  1. Mom/Grandma Says:

    Tell me about Billy Collins and where you found this please? I think my very basic Conceptual skills have not met with him.

  2. Kathryn Says:

    Billy Collins is an American poet, appointed as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. I prefer Ted Kooser, but this Collins poem resonated. I appreciate the idea that the afterlife is a matter of perception or a self-fulfilling prophecy. I smiled at the reference to Edith Hamilton (who wrote The Greek Way and was the greatest women Classicist). I love the phrase, “the place you kept lit in an alcove in your head,” which resonates with my Catholic roots. It feels like a hopeful poem. I found it at a website I visit called Whiskey River: