The ‘Heaven or Hell’ Man

“My friend!
When you die, where do you expect to go?
Heaven or Hell?”
was always his opening gambit.

The Heaven or Hell Man cycled to the city every day–
three miles each way–
and standing in the same spot,
locked the public in, or tried to,
by asking how they planned to rot
and whether they’d been lied to.

I shit you not, his name was Odin.
“Nothing weird like what you’re thinking,” he said.
“It just means ‘Friend of God’.”
Thank God it’s nothing weird, I thought.

Norwegian, retired, clinically depressed,
born-again (still clinically depressed),
with a rattish face, aged by the race against time.
“Any one of these people could die any second!
My witness could affect where they spend eternity.”
The logical conclusion of exclusivist religion
would weigh on anyone’s mind.

Odin had a peculiar way of gripping people.
In my case, by the shoulders.
He stopped me an awful lot
but never remembered the previous times.
I suppose I have a kind face
or gullibility in my eyes.

Trying to call me to repentance
was never a sustained effort.
I think he came to the streets for an audience
because his church friends
found him too intense.
Instead he rambled, as though I was on his side,
about the many weaknesses in Christendom today.

How the churches here either emphasise Word or Spirit,
but never the unity of the two
(unlike those excellent American ministers
who you see on GodTV).
How more Christians should be out here evangelizing!
How even atheists show more charity than we.

But he never looked more dejected, more useless
than when joined by another evangelist.
He was handsomer, younger, armed with picket signs.
One said Jesus Loves You–friendly enough–
and on the other side,
the word PORN
crossed out with a thick red line.

The young man’s other sign read, ‘Real men
love Jesus and hate sin.’
Well I don’t want to sin and I love Jesus
but I shudder at the thought
of being a “real man.”
Maybe Odin felt the same.

My intention is not to tell you that this man wasn’t a dickhead.
One day the Hare Krishnas were about, Hare Krishna-ing around.
He shouted, MY FRIENDS!
YOU CAN BELIEVE ANY FALSE RELIGION YOU LIKE!
IT WON’T HELP YOU!
How refreshing!, I thought,
A heartfelt evangelical expression
of religious liberty.

Then who should emerge out of that chaos?
In a navy medallioned silk scarf and rust v-neck jumper?
Professor Stephen Hawking. The Professor Stephen Hawking.
“God created the universe, professor,” he spat.
“You have to answer him soon!”

What a cunt. Still,
seems like he knew that the Prof
could only type one word per minute,
so courteously gave him a statement, not a question.
Both his carers smiled sarcastically.
They get this a lot, I bet.

Over time, he heard my changing reasons
for why I’m bound for the unquenchable flame.
Marxist.
Mormon.
Homosexual.
But if Odin could see where I meet for worship now
he’d be more than happy for me to be
a Gay Marxist Mormon again.

And over time, I noticed a change in his attire.
At first he wore flannel shirts. Then worse flannel shirts.
Then t-shirts, then the same light grey t-shirt every day,
increasingly stained.
But always caped in a hi-viz vest.

Last time I saw Odin, he had no shirt on at all.
With a neutral expression with his arm in a bin
he fished around for a half-eaten chicken-wrap
or some other morsel.

Had he taken a vow of poverty
or fallen on hard times?
It couldn’t stop him preaching:
he was still in signature fluorescent green,
his bike tied up on a lamppost nearby.

Most likely he forgot to bring a snack that day
and, afraid to leave his post,
stayed and ate what God had gave.
How could he walk away?
God might be mighty to save, but,
the work of salvation rests solely
on the sloping shoulders of Odin,
the Heaven or Hell Man.

You’ll notice I’m only guessing here.
Well, I had a bus to catch,
so I did nothing, in my hour of decision.

I pray sometimes that Odin’s alright,
certain that he’s not.
He’s dead I’d guess, or if alive,
in prison. Or ‘someplace’:
reluctantly pleading insanity,
having defaced a Catholic grave.

The religion shit was just a cover.
There’s something baser, I feel, in his devotion,
his desperation to win souls.

Everyone’s got their pet theory or obsession,
but nobody seems to care or listen
when you don’t know how to market yourself.

It’s rarely about the theory.
Strip all that away and all he wanted
was to be loved and heard,
which everyone deserves,
even the Heaven or Hell Man.

3/2/19.

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On Sleep and its Dubious Moral Character

where I am, it’s snowing
and set to carry on all night
where you are,
the sun’s three hours from rising
and asleep, unsensing, unknowing, yet
already in the heat of noon
there you are

when in bed together
nature throws a great dilemma:
should I sleep?
I’m not fearing Gehenna
just whether the morality of rest
will permit me to so do it:
can I sleep?

let’s make a for/against.
dreaming in unison, our dreams
don’t improve
yours will still torment you, but
when you jolt awake, afraid of nothing
I’m there straightaway to save you
and to soothe

what grieves me most is time
close but not conscious: no different
from separate
wasting precious waning hours
on basest biological desires
we really should be putting in
more effort

***

but from that dark place
that temporary Sheol
it takes me half a second to recall
before I realise
how much I have to lose
then there you are to save me
and to soothe

29/1/19. For Shu Ning.

universal truth III: covenant

that offends me,
the idea of there being no absolute truth

look at the love, the tie between us
tell me we’re not bound in heaven
to be unbreakable on earth
nothing else adds up

tell me that bond was not formed
before our souls were thus encased
before creation took its shape
to never be torn, or wither

“bound for freedom”: that’s the mystery
or contradiction?
of a God who’s in control

but I can feel secure
in the fragility of the opposite
if time has no fixed path
and our survival rests on our shoulders
I’d feel no less sure: we will last

27/1/19. Enough on this topic now, I think.

Part 1, Part 2

universal truth II: dualism

just as I must suspend
my belief in ultimate truth
to guard my heart against pride
you might wish to pretend
that we’re never fully apart

call it a soul or whatever you will
— the name bears no relevance —
call it heaven-sent or part of the world
— it’s not real so choose what you want —
but believe or at least seriously imagine:
a force immaterial or object profane
which exists in reality, soothing our pain
and keeps us unified

a part of me with you
until the whole of me is on you again
imagine hard enough, and that force
will be at least as real as a border
those wretched, loathsome lines in the sand

22/1/19. Part 1Part 3

Meditations on First Philosophy

“Is he a queer?” is not the question,
It’s, “Does he know I’m a queer?”

If we had met not already knowing,
would you have known?
Does it matter?
Should I have been pleased if you had?

If it had come up somehow,
would you have thought,
“Yeah, makes sense?”

I don’t suppose it matters.

18/1/19. For Shu Ning. Partly inspired by this song.