‘And he converted to Catholicism on his deathbed’

It screams quiz show
that quiet phrase, a hush
yelling shush in a studio,
lights dimming, frame closing,
audience leaning and the man
in a cream suit blurting

I’m going to need your final answer

And what fortune, first,
to be granted time and mind
to even hear the question,
like today’s contestant

who pressed A) for Atheism
but hovers now over C),
a short trip for his finger
that once meant a fraught
trek across a frontline,

the farewell to a compadre
then flight from the tents at midnight,
godless dogs
slobbering behind, chasing a scent
beyond the faith-test of a mountain
and all of them yelping

Is that your final answer?

But it’s shame here,
not hounds this one risks,
now those beliefs that gripped
in days before morphine
dangle empty as his shirts

and so he weighs reputation
against mortal fear, hopes
this episode gets rubbed
when the news begins,
while close friends blame sickness
curdling sense before liver,

his volte-face just one more
flick of the switches,
or perhaps he doesn’t care
or he thrills at the touch of death
taking polaroids, snapping
every rosy-cheeked saint
sat in mutters of judgement.

And wouldn’t a real coward
jump ship without saying,
hammer out his bargains with God
in the basement of himself?
He at least
has pressed an intention,
gone for C), declares

Yes, that’s my final answer

as he tugs and rips
the drip from his arm, done
leasing the franchise
meeting targets in his bones,
begging now for an end
to suspense, the shine

of green light or red, a smile
or sigh from the host,
but the host’s having none of it,
knows not-knowing
is what goads the blood, says
that’s all until next week
and here’s that number to call

as the credits, dammed up
against the rim of the hour,
cascade a waterfall of final words,
a litany of names
nailed to their chosen posts,
pledged to the profane
and plunging
past the foot of the screen
down to wherever it is they go.

 

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