The Atheist’s Demise

by Fred Longworth
Muse Motel
Third Place, May 2013
Judged by Linda Sue Grimes


after both Dylan Thomas and Wallace Stevens

In the last hour of Billy’s dying,
his brow took on the gnarls of fear.
What had seemed so clear as he lay
on the warm grass of contemplation
grew murky on the tundra of a deathbed.

“A priest,” he whispered. “Get me a priest.”

So little time. We called and called.
We were sirens in a ghost town.
No one was available,
even the 7/24 outcall minister.

It was up to us to make believe.

We searched Billy’s house and found
a tarnished silver cross on a lanyard,
a black windbreaker, and a dusty Bible.
Jillian was blood, Michael friend.

I was the unfamiliar.

I donned jacket and cross. Bible in hand,
I read the 23rd Psalm and John 14:1-6.
It was like lying to a child to soothe
his night-fears, and let him
go gentle into good sleep.


“The Atheist’s Demise” gives a nod to Rev. William T. Cummings’ claim, “There are no atheists in the foxholes.” A friend, a relative, and an “unfamiliar” of a dying heretofore-professed atheist perform the semblance of last rites for the lapsed Catholic, sending him into that “good sleep” with the benefit of clergy as the dying man had, seemingly against his own belief system, requested. The living liken their benevolence to “lying to a child to soothe / his night-fears.” --Linda Sue Grimes

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