Afterlife – a poem by Cristina Legarda


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 DewdropPensiveFOLIODappled ThingsHeartWoodCoastal Shelf,  The Good Life Review, and others.


  1. 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!

    Liked by 2 people

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