Back to Issue Thirty-Seven

In Time of Plague



The seraph touches a live coal
to somebody’s lips
but not mine. If the message is good,
the oracle’s real. If it’s bad, well,
it’s all nonsense anyway.
In my early twenties I shoplifted
a copy of The Gospel of Thomas
from Barnes & Noble.
I sometimes wish God
weren’t so subtle,
but you get what you pay for.
A friend tweeted today:
“If you see ppl shoplifting
right now, have their fucking
back.” Me, I’m avoiding stores.
Outside for the first time
in weeks, an eagle’s wingspan
between me and the enemy.
The most deserted spot
I can find is the lot
behind the dilapidated
Seventh-day Adventist school.
Kids shoot hoops in front;
out back, dozens of drab
birds study empty plastic
containers of cake frosting.
The school must be in use
in times that pass for normal—
healthy potted plants
sun on windowsills—
but it looks like it could
collapse any moment.
Like everything else. The church
connected to the school
is missing a few stained panes,
its base painted an incongruous
baby blue. A school bus lists
to starboard in weeds.
A woman holding a Swiffer
Sweeper at port arms nods
to me as she passes. I nod
back, trying to convey
“Quite the shitshow.”
Home, I wash my red
hands raw again and check
for seraphim. I’ve had it
up to here with God.
Those hip youth pastors
with their acoustic guitars
have the right idea: reduce
it to bromides, sing-alongs,
manga Jesus. Whatever
survives that must be true.
Hey, did I ever tell you about
the time I prayed for help
and help came there none?
It was a day much like this one.
It’s dark inside God at first.
You gotta make your own
spark, like those red lamps
on the ocean floor
that illuminate their prey
right before they attack.



Michael Robbins lives in New Jersey. He is the author of Walkman (Penguin, 2021) and two previous poetry collections, and Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music, a volume of essays, as well as the editor of Margaret Cavendish, a selection of the duchess’s poems. He is an associate professor of English at Montclair State University.

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