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 I
gone 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
like a crate of fruit, tossed
off a truck
and smashing into the street.


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.