So Say the Dead

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Contributor: Justin DeFerbrache

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The road goes ever forward, it does not bend or wind.
The idle drudge of labor only pains an active mind.
When life is merely shadows of what's lost or never been
one learns to embrace the machine and kill the ghost within.
So on we press, our damned parade, machines to the machine,
the wheels must keep turning as our souls are crushed between.
Only in the darkness do we find our fast relief
but the sun is unrelenting and makes the night so brief.
Then one day, we wake to find the journey's gone halfway;
how can a road that never bends lead one so far astray?
Is there no salvation, then, no key to all our toil?
No more to us than blood and sweat to feed the threshers oil?
When the race is at an end, what will be our reward
except to know the ploughshare kills as surely as the sword?
Would damnation wait for me if I should seek release?
My feet are tired, my soul is spent, am I not due my peace?

"You say eternal torments lie beyond your mortal coil
and yet you now condemn yourself while still on earthly soil.
You feel the pool grow shallow from which you draw your breath
but those who mourn their faded youth are those who fear their death.
We do not grow weary, we have no cause for fright,
the blessed darkness hides us from the terror of the light.
The plough is driven for us, the landlord wants no tax.
The living are our servants and bare us on their backs!
And if upon that final day we rise to stand our trial
at least we will have had our peace and rested for a while.
So sleep if you are tired. If you're weary, rest your head,"
so say the dead.

One midnight, as I wandered on, the moon grew dim and black.
I came into an unknown glen that held a railroad track.
I stood beside that iron path that led I knew not where
but if there was another way, I thought, I'd find it there.
Yet as I peered into the dark, my living blood ran cold
to think upon the truths I'd find, were I to take that road.
I started back the way I came, now anxious for my bed
when all at once, the screaming of a whistle filled my head.
The night became as daylight and I cowered at what came:
a ghostly locomotive engulfed in hellish flame!
Its chimney gasping wretched smoke, its boiler fully shattered,
its side bore Shakamaxon upon a metal placard.
From the blazing carriage, a soul came, charred and black.
He begged me pardon the delay and idly waved me back.
The bare planks of the first three cars were all a burning pyre
where heads and arms hung from the ledge, made fleshless by the fire.
The souls that rode behind them yet maintained their human frame
but limbs all singed and broken, they had perished just the same.
They bid me climb aboard the train and join their company;
half the riders had survived, so I could sit for free.
"What is your destination, where does the railroad lead?"
They thought so on my question that their wounds began to bleed.
"What do you know of Heaven, where do the damned reside?"
But they could tell me nothing, except the way they died.

"We know that for the living, hope is the surest diet
and those who don't walk Heaven's way must learn to walk beside it.
We met infernal fire when we turned that fatal bend
and what we did before it made no difference in the end.
We have not stopped riding since that day upon Camp Hill,
our journey has not reached its end and likely never will.
Of the damned and of the blessed, we still have never learned,
though some of us were good, some bad, all of us were burned.
We feel no pain, we know no grief, nor are we satisfied,
we do not have the answer, still you'd better take a ride
for the path is unforgiving, and the road is hard to tread,"
so say the dead.

Our course is but a single stretch that goes from birth to grave,
time holds us in its shackles and we are all its slave.
Now the day is ending, I have nearly run my race;
the pushers take some pity and I move a slower pace.
The sun, though harsh, transfigures all: the sky and on the ground.
The rain refreshes and I find some comfort in its sound.
I never took my final leave, I did not ride the train,
I trudged the road, though often I felt lonesome in my pain.
But there were always shoulders there to grasp when I was weak;
they bore the hardships with me, my path was not unique.
Although I toiled endlessly to finish bent and poor,
I now pay heed to those around who suffer even more.
I am worn and tired, but as air yet fills my lungs,
I shall shoulder who I can in trials still to come.

"We do not bear a burden, we know no chore but sleep.
When our loved ones mourn for us, we do not cry or weep.
Our limbs are cold and useless, to whom could we bring help
except perhaps the crows and worms that feast upon our scalp?
Now we see the journey was a grind, but not so long
and when there was another there, it helped us to be strong.
We are not troubled anymore, but nor do we feel bliss;
there's nothing here to fear or find and nothing you would miss.
The grave will come and claim you, at last it shall succeed
so do not rally to it while the living are in need.
If death is but an option, I'd rather live instead."
so say the dead.

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Justin DeFerbrache studied English Literature at a small liberal arts college in Indiana. For the past three years, he has been working as a TESOL teacher in China and exploring the Asian continent one bit at a time. He writes poetry and short fiction on the side.


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