Afterlife My death was not what I thought it would be. I was expecting tunnels, light, a life review, and dreading, actually, that thing you hear about – you feel what everyone was feeling every moment that you spent with them, and every shadowed motive comes to light. Instead I got into some sort of ship, a vessel for a thousand souls. There was a kind of river, but no need of pilots, boatswains, ferrymen, or ghosts to guide the floating ventricle across the void. A holy wind enfolded us in warmth, a glow, and seemed to guide our unseen sails. The bardo, bathed in halos, lay ahead containing chambers in which each of us, alone, would face a tilted scale upon which lay the iridescent feather that would weigh our worth, that mythic, colored plume composed of all our memories and deeds, all curling and unfurling on a quill, the calamus our lifepath formed from birth on earth to our arrival here. There was no god or angel there to take our hearts and place them on the balance; we just knew we had to do it for ourselves. And so I cupped my hands like one in prayer, felt my spirit coalesce, a hand, a heart, a life with just the heft to tip the scale, the beam’s slow tilt toward eternity excruciatingly vertiginous as the feather brushed against me with what seemed, from here, like dreams – a chance encounter, lover’s face, a cruel word, a secret moment when a kindness shaped a life, my friends, my enemies, the fears I’d known. I felt the scale swing up and down and realized the final test was this, the lesson I’d been learning all along: to choose between the heaviness of fear and love that turns our souls to light. I made my final choice; the tattered feather sank; and, clothed in light, I started my ascent.
Cristina Legarda was born in the Philippines and spent her early childhood there before moving to Bethesda, Maryland. She is now a practicing physician in Boston. Her work has appeared in America magazine, The Dewdrop, Pensive, FOLIO, Dappled Things, HeartWood, Coastal Shelf, The Good Life Review, and others.
Powerful. Thank you
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Cristina Legarda’s poem “Afterlife” is brilliant and has the feeling of truth. Maybe the best new poem I’ve read all year. Congratulations, visionary, inspired work!
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