God exists. Instead we are a group of teenage girls, drunk at one of those awful carnivals in a field, out between the airport and the mall. It’s raining, and this has become a festival of mud, which is just fine with us. A man
with hundreds of tattoos has taken a fancy to Heidi and is slipping her extra darts to lob at the balloons. There are sirens every time she misses, and she wins nothing. Why
is there straw in the mud, why is it plastered now to the wet sleeves of our leather jackets? Something cruises into the air with its light bulbs zapping and when we turn around, the man
has disappeared with Heidi. Am I wrong or has every teenage girl been at this same carnival in rain, in 19- 78, with four wild friends and a fifth of peach schnapps in her purse with its bit of rawhide fringe? Music
spins at us and away from us as the Octopus starts up its scrambling disco dance. Am I
the one who says Don’t worry she’ll be back or have Igone to the Port-o-Potty to barf again by now? Imagine
hours later when we are terrified and sober and still waiting, when she re-appears with her hand tucked into the back pocket of the tattooed man who has no T-shirt on now under his black vinyl vest so we can see all his swastikas and naked ladies – imagine
that we are just a few peasant girls on a hill in Portugal. It’s night, but the sun’s
swung out of the sky like a wrecking ball on fire and even the skinny whores
in their ice-cold brothel smile when the Fascists are gripped with cramps and shudder in their shiny uniforms with tassels. Imagine when we see Heidi:
her blurred blue robes in the distance, her soft virgin voice, and the way it knocks us to our knees
Here is a poem whose drastic turn comes in the very first line. And it turns two ways. As in some epic poems, a god or God, is immediately invoked, but then this God who merely “exists” followed by a period, terrifies us. To exist seems utterly passive. And then the kicker: “Instead” followed by a line break. The reader knows something is wrong. Here is a God who is going to be separated from his creation. The next line is a version of the first. Goodness in the form of the innocence of teenage girls is followed by the word drunk, and then in the following lines the narrative unfolds. There are other turns, such as Heidi’s reappearance and the imagination turning to Portugal (Fátima) where another Virgin once appeared to three children offering terrifying visions of hell, suffering, and judgment. Heidi appears unharmed in “her blurred blue robes” and “her soft / virgin voice”, but her hand is tucked into the tattooed man’s back pocket and all is not right in the world. She might seem like a virgin, but this seeming bears with it a horrible alternative. There are two stanza breaks ending with the word “imagine,” which insists upon some kind of imaginative escape from this horrible world. But there is no easy way out of this carnal world. During the whole poem we experience that first turn like a hook in the mouth inevitably dragging us to shore. “God exists. Instead.” In other words, God, whose very definition assumes his goodness and presence and is countered with “Instead,” allows for the problem of evil to harm us. And even though the imagination tries to erect a bulwark against the loss of innocence, it is too late. And we go forth terrified of the consequences in a world of “carnivals” (whose root comes from the word meat) in which we find carnies, darts, sirens, light bulbs zapping, mud, tattoos, swastikas, cheap liquor, leather fringe, black vinyl, vomit, whores, Fascists, a mechanical Octopus and, finally, fruit, ripe as these girls, ultimately, “tossed / off a truck and smashing into the street.” God help us, we say.
John Poch is the author of three poetry collections, most recently Dolls (Orchises Press 2009). He is Professor of English at Texas Tech University. For ten years he served as editor of 32 Poems Magazine. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Yale Review, Agni, Smartish Pace, and other journals. Laura Kasischke, “Fatima” from Housekeeping in a Dream. Copyright © 1995 by Laura Kasischke. Reprinted with permission of the author.