I must admit, when I arrived in Hell
I was surprised.  Not, as you might surmise,
Because I never reckoned it was real—
And surely not because I thought I’d led
A sinless life—but owing to the fact
I did not know that I had died.  You see,
It happened in my sleep, the way one hopes
It will, with just a bit of luck.  So there
I was, awake, my vision clearing till
I saw I was surrounded by my friends,
Who looked at me expectantly, as though
They waited for a punch line to sink in.
And then I got it.  All of them were pals
Who’d predeceased me.  This was Hell, no doubt!

The way things looked, it seemed a party had
Been going on for several days at least:
Spent pizza boxes, beer cans, bottles … O
The bottles!—every one was empty, had
Been from the very first.  My friends just shrugged,
As though it didn’t matter.  Then I saw
What must have made them so indifferent to
The lack of stimulating drink.  Across
The deadness of that grand salon were half,
At least, of all the women I had kissed
Or known in any way, and many more
Besides—and they were smiling too, at me,
The latest to arrive.  Each one of them
Looked primed and in her prime.  And this was Hell?

My friends then nudged me with their quiet eyes
As if they wanted me to give it my
Best shot, and I obliged.  I took a breath
And squared my most miraculously straight
And solid shoulders, taking strides the likes
Of which I hadn’t made in twenty years.
Babes beckoned.  I pressed on.  But when I reached
That coifed and comely covey I was stunned
To find that I felt nothing, not a god-
Damned thing.  Desire was absent in my loins,
Just as desire was missing in those breasts
That once had been my heart’s delight.  I touched
Some anyway, and afterward we all
Sat down and wondered where the life had gone.

And later on I asked about a small
Concern I had, about the Lord of Dark
Supposed to rule this place, and I was told
He hardly ever comes around, but when
He does it’s only to suffice his need
For exercise—he never hassles us
And seems well pleased that we have joined him in
The static corridors of his demesne.
The boundless time apportioned us allows
A space for speculation:  What’s the point
Of brand-new bodies if we’ve been deprived
Of lust?  So how much worse could Heaven be?
Eventually our minds adjust, and we
Become resigned to the new status quo.

                                                                        First published in Northwoods Journal (2003)



C.B. Anderson was the longtime gardener for the PBS television series, The Victory Garden.  Hundreds of his poems have appeared in scores of print and electronic journals out of North America, Great Britain, Ireland, Austria, Australia and India.  His collection, Mortal Soup and the Blue Yonder was published in 2013 by White Violet Press.

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13 Responses

  1. Brian Yapko

    This is really a very entertaining poem, C.B. — and something of a departure for you since I don’t believe I’ve seen any of your blank verse poems before — a factor, I’m sure, of this poem being from an earlier period of yours. I’m quite intrigued by your vision of Hell — neither a place of obvious punishment nor of lust denied so much as lust eliminated — almost like an amputation which unmans (or unwomans) the unfortunate victim. By analogy, it would be like a glutton who is not hungry and deprived of food but, rather, who is deprived of the appetite for food. A somewhat subtler form of torture. And the casual tone and colloquial language makes this poem almost the antithesis of Dante. I enjoyed reading this vision of yours. Let’s hope we never have to find out whether you’re right!

    • C.B. Anderson

      Yes, Brian, you’ve not seen any blank verse from me before because I’ve not published any here before. The occasion of this piece was a desire to publish a piece in an obscure journal put out by a printer in Thomaston, ME who wanted to print a journal of poetry and short stories but who found end rhyme distasteful (and who knew nothing of meter). My vision of hell, as you point out, is not eternal torture but rather eternal boredom. And I do wonder whether, if hell should look like this, then must heaven be somewhat similar, though perhaps a bit more joyful? Either we’ll find out, or we won’t.

  2. Norma Pain

    I enjoyed this poem C.B. It is dreamlike, funny and entertaining, as I find most dreams that I experience. Is blank verse the same as free-verse?

  3. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    C.B., when I read this poem for the first time, I bypassed the obvious and was left feeling a little uncomfortable and somewhat numb, apart from my delight at “coifed and comely covey” – great use of consonance, great image. A little strange and shallow, I thought to myself… but, that’s the whole point… a sinner in Hell with booze and breasts on his mind… the temptations that ensured the devil was his landlord. And then I read it again… I love it! I hope he discovers the meaning of true love with one of the luscious lovelies and develops wings that will fly him to eternity with compassion, gratitude, and joy in his formerly sleazy soul.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Nah. There’s no way out, Susan. The narrator will just get used to it, as he did in life. There is no exit. Eternity is a long time. Unless one believes in an after-afterlife, redemption is no longer a possibility.

  4. Jeff Eardley

    CB…Thank you for cheering me up on a dark, wet and windy Sunday over here. I often lull myself to sleep thinking of long ago romantic liaisons. It only takes a few seconds as there weren’t that many. You have convinced me that the afterlife could be a load of old friends sitting around a brazier ( or even brassiere) with a bottomless supply of Jack Daniels and Old Nick popping in now and again. Brilliant and entertaining. Thank you.

    • C.B. Anderson

      You like Tennessee whiskey, Jeff? I’d prefer some nice Auchentoshan, Linkwood, or perhaps Talisker. Whatever floats your boat.

  5. Tamara Beryl Latham

    C.B. Anderson, Your poem exemplifies excellence in blank verse. You have certainly mastered the form.

    The theme that is woven throughout the lines is (because of your actions on this earth) you are banished by God to hell everlasting.

    In a nutshell, upon arrival in hell, you are met by your many friends, who too have sinned on this earth. Satan visits you from time to time, but also allows all of you to continue doing what you initially did on earth that was considered by the Lord to be bad behavior or sinful.

    You detail beautifully (although lust is now absent from your mind) there is no escape from hell and the punishment you have been given is everlasting. .

    The poem reminds me of the words Jesus spoke in Matthew 24:42 and the Luke 16:24 scripture.

    Yet, if you believe in the words Jesus spoke in Matthew 18:21, 22, then you would know when Peter asked Jesus how often he should forgive his brother, who has sinned against him, “As many as seven times?” Jesus said, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” .

    With that in mind it takes a lot for the Lord to send people to hell for eternity.
    Jesus took the sins of the world upon himself, so that even a murderer can be forgiven. Mark 3:28-29

    Remember, ALL SINS ARE FORGIVEN except ONE SIN and that is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

    Thanks for sharing such outstanding work with us. 🙂


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