March 26, 2023

Drinking in the Afterlife

by Michael Steffen

Headstones sprout in ragged rows on hills,
graves with potted plants and loved ones praying
for the bliss of their dearly departed,

whom I imagine are bellying up in the hereafter,
shotgunning beers, guzzling altar wine,
marinating in bottles of Three Penis Liquor

under the blue neon of disbelief. I mean,
is it too much to ask for some plausible picture
of the hereafter, something without ferrymen

or mythological rivers, a vision
I can relate to—just plain old dead folks
getting sozzled in the ever-present fog

of Dante’s third circle, well lubricated in white
dinner jackets and cocktail gowns,
slurring speeches to indifferent crowds

or trawling Perdition’s flea-blown dives,
a six pack of Schlitz in each hand?
What else are they supposed to do

while pausing for family and friends to arrive?
I couldn’t imagine my Uncle Red,
crusty as old time, showing up at heaven’s gate

just to throw bread to the ducks,
toss a few darts or maybe—for shits and giggles—
sneak back to his earthly home to whisper

some off-color joke into Aunt Dorothy’s ear,
topple their dusty portrait, a Hummel or two.
Better to imagine him lounging in the clouds,

waiting his turn before the stern judge, listening
to Coltrane play Salve Regina, starlight
from a vintage cognac swirling in his snifter.


Michael Steffen’s fifth collection of poems, IN THE FACTORY OF LOATHING, will be published by Fernwood Press in April, 2024.  New work has recently appeared, or will appear soon, in Bollman Bridge Review, The Chaffin Journal and Jerry Jazz Musician.