The Orders

One spring night, at the end of my street
God was lying in wait.
A friend and I were sitting in his new sedan
like a couple of cops on surveillance,
shooting the breeze to pass the time,
chatting up the daydreams, the raw deals,
all the wouda-coulda-shoulda’s,
the latest “Can you believe that?”
As well as the little strokes of luck,
the so-called triumphs, small and unforeseen,
that kept us from cashing it all in.
And God, who’s famous for working
in mysterious ways and capable of anything,
took the form of a woman and a man,
each dressed in dark clothes and desperate enough
to walk up to the car and open the doors.
And God put a gun to the head of my friend—
right against the brain stem, where the orders go out
not only to the heart and the lungs
but to consciousness itself—a cold muzzle aimed
at where the oldest urges still have their day:
the one that says eat whatever’s at hand,
the one that wants only to fuck,
the one that will kill if it has to…
And God said not to look at him
or he’d blow us straight to kingdom come,
and God told us to keep our hands
to ourselves, as if she weren’t that kind of girl.
Suddenly time was nothing,
our lives were cheap, the light in the car
cold, light from a hospital,
light from a morgue. And the moments
that followed—if that’s what they were—
arrived with a nearly unbearable weight,
until we had acquired
a center of gravity
as great as the planet itself.
My friend could hardly speak—
he was too busy trying not to die—
which made me chatter all the more,
as if words, even the most ordinary ones,
had the power to return us to our lives.
And behind my ad-libbed incantation,
my counterspell to fear, the orders
still went out: keep beating, keep breathing,
you are not permitted to disappear,
even as one half of God kept bitching
to the other half that we didn’t have
hardly no money at all, and the other half barked,
“I’m telling you to shut your mouth!”
and went on rummaging through the back seat.
And no one at all looking out their window,
no one coming home or going out…
Until two tall neighbors came walking toward us
like unsuspecting saviors…  And God grabbed
the little we’d been given, the little we still had,
and hustled on to the next dark street.

Thomas Centolella, "The Orders" from Lights and Mysteries.  Copyright © 1995 by Thomas Centolella.  Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press,,
Source: Lights and Mysteries (Copper Canyon Press, 1995)
More Poems by Thomas Centolella