Guilt Mountain

When he does his taxes,
He finds charges for things
He didn’t sign up for.
No chance to read about penalties and
Interest rates.
He didn’t sign up for life’s contract.

Would he initial
“I agree” after reading life’s
Promising him a chance to

Stroll, sprint, and trot on a star. Flowers, honey, an unlimited chance to walk in a meadow of peace like the one at Yosemite, a crack-house pile of money each day and
Straight A’s.

The penalties are spelled out in a font so tiny as
To be unreadable.
Would the fines be: “Hurt Heartache Tragedy Grief”?

He’s had his share yet lives like a prince
Or at least as a court member.
He remembers
The beauty now dust
Who could not
Bring children to full term.
He and she were educated.
Read books and turned
Them over to Science,
Where they floated in jars.
She became The Cat Lady
And gave each cat those
Stillborn children’s names.

Were his genes to blame?
Do miscarriages run in families?
Is that what his mother meant when
She said, “A lot of your brothers and sisters didn’t make it”?
He woke one night to find her lying on the living-room floor.
He thought that she was dead.
When his stepfather called 911, he could not say “miscarriage.”
He said “misfortune.”

One day, he felt excruciating
Pressure on his back; the Doctor said,
“The Baron has been riding you. You hurt
Every time he grins. He’s always thirsty,
Which explains your dehydration.
He likes the Bayou and hates deserts.”

For a while, he found desert life agreeable.
The burden on his back ceased.
He dreamed of a nude woman with a Benin face.
An orange-headed condor with black wings
Was lifting
Her to one of those California skies, the color
Of robins’ eggs.
This scene occurred above Big Sur.

Desert life was cheap.
He raised prize cacti and explored cliff dwellings, but he ached for the city. On his heart is a street directory. That’s where their survivor found him, her voices in tow. She taught him why some people subject to foul whispers get mad when you praise their gifts.
The chatter that berates them spends more time with them than you.

Out here, smiling climbers
Take selfies when they
Reach the summits of mountains.

But Guilt Mountain?
It has no top.

Ishmael Reed