Afterlife Insurance

Afterlife Insurance

The surgeon jabs me in the gut, twice under the chin.
Gentle boxer, he means to knock me out
with anaesthetic. He means to leave a scar.

I am inhuman to him: a muscular pink cartoon
in the waiting room’s coloring book, cut
on the dotted lines. My body, one whole chicken
in the grocery aisle, pre-marinated in antiseptic.
Down the breastbone slide his forceps and scalpel
like a fork and knife at supper. He sets
the cancerous organs aside like anchovies
in a salad he didn’t order.

When I wake up, he’s scanning my wrinkles
the way one skims the hard-set words
on a stranger’s headstone. He reads them to me,
but the breathing tube down my throat
has eaten my reservations. I swallow hard.
He lifts my hands. Then lays them down
across my ribs like two fish on an oven rack.
By parting the curtains, he parts the veil
between the living and the dead. The curtains

part again; this must be the angel—no,
it’s the insurance agent. Historian of agony,
accountant of Acheron, she wants some identification,
and some answers. Above all, she wants the tokens
I owe the ferryman at the gates of death. When
my relatives place the gold pieces upon my eyes, she
is the one will who cash me out.


by Ryan Dowling

What the Doctor Said by Raymond Carver

What the Doctor Said

He said it doesn’t look good
he said it looks bad in fact real bad
he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before
I quit counting them
I said I’m glad I wouldn’t want to know
about any more being there than that
he said are you a religious man do you kneel down
in forest groves and let yourself ask for help
when you come to a waterfall
mist blowing against your face and arms
do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments
I said not yet but I intend to start today
he said I’m real sorry he said
I wish I had some other kind of news to give you
I said Amen and he said something else
I didn’t catch and not knowing what else to do
and not wanting him to have to repeat it
and me to have to fully digest it
I just looked at him
for a minute and he looked back it was then
I jumped up and shook hands with this man who’d just given me
something no one else on earth had ever given me
I may have even thanked him habit being so strong

by Raymond Carver (1938-1988)