“Medals of Freedom in the Afterlife” by Sonia Greenfield

Sonia Greenfield


In the afterlife, all the recipients
ride the same cloud in heaven,
their medals like halos
strung around their necks, their halos
like reflections of golden
medals against mist. Rosa and Georgia
and Harvey and Cesar, beatific—
how they hang their heads
over the edge and whisper
to each other about the newcomers
with medals still fixed over hearts gone
as quiet as a shock jock
in hospice. In heaven, your feet
are never cold, you sleep in sheets
like cream pressed thin and still
warm from ironing, and your lungs
become two aquariums swirling
with neon tetras or whatever
illuminated fish you prefer,
and why not? Let’s make it as lovely
as we can. Let’s fake it until we’re
so full of belief that even those recipients
peering over the edge—Martin and Helen
and Elie and Nelson—think the next one
might be redeemed after all. His desperate
prayers rise up and are collected in a can
like f-bombs in a swear jar brought to God
who shakes it and shakes it until the rattle
strikes the right atonement. Such fantasies
the sight of paradise can produce!
He’s so close to the end now they can
practically smell his imminent arrival.

from Poets Respond
February 9, 2020


Sonia Greenfield: “Like many others, I was flabbergasted to hear that Rush Limbaugh received the Medal of Freedom. He received it, I assume, because he’s dying. I then imagined how he would be received by prior recipients, and that’s how this poem came about. I don’t particularly believe in heaven, but it’s a pretty fantasy.” (web)

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