He’s Isaiah sometimes, sometimes Elijah, or even
the Son of Man, though no one on earth would ever
see a prophet—much less a divinity—
in Willie, back on probation, rumpled and stinking.
His lank hair’s dyed a color not found in nature.
His lips clamp a roll-your-own smoke gone cold.
I’m a coward. I play along. But if there’s a God
he’s got better tricks up his sleeve than conniving with Boeing.
That’s the latest vision. I ought to laugh at Willie
if only to save myself, and to shut him up.
Fearing I’d fail, I stay as quiet as a mouse.
The man’s not right, of course. If there’s an almighty,
He’d hardly hand over the world to a wreck who’s used
his mind and body up with drugs and booze.
I’m this crack-brained dreamer’s so-called sponsor.
In the recent dream a flight attendant led him
to the 747’s emergency row,
the emergency being cosmic and Willie the one
to deal with such crisis. The stewardess knew that and let him.
He shines with something like spirit in his delusions.
When they grip him, he’s Willie-anointed-by-heaven.
I don’t scoff out loud, but he hears my thinking:
Jesus, he says, was tekton to the Greeks.
What Greek on earth does Willie have? No matter:
he claims that a tekton was lowlier still than a carpenter.
I’d like to answer, At least he had real work.
But Willie’d insist his own work’s assigned from on high.
He’d cite the scriptures, which he knows better than I.
I ought to grab his shirtfront and say to his face,
If you mean to get yourself saved then get yourself straight.
Don’t worry about us mortals. He’s read me again:
I’ve fucked up before, he admits. But now he’ll stay
clean as the saints because he himself is fate.
From the 747 he prophesied
the awful atomic cloud that in time will rise
above the town where he and I live, so tiny
you’d wonder why even Willie in manic fugue
would single it out as a place for apocalypse.
I dare to ask. He darkens, scowls, and reminds me
that what in my pride I call reason has nothing to do
with eternal truth—and that will be the only
part of his raving I can accept entirely.
He says it’s likely that I believe his dream
arrived in sleep, but I’d better believe it did not:
it was holy man’s wisdom; he received it wide awake;
he was bodily lifted from this same scuffed plastic chair—
we sit at his table, sagging with fat wacky tracts—
where he’d come to roll the spit-stained cigarette.
Assumed into that roaring jumbo jet,
he had a view from alpha to omega.
And I was given, he says, to speak or not
to speak a word that would set this earth on fire.
(It’s funny how he can break out of jailbird slang.)
Humanity’s future was up to him. He thought,
What will I do? Then the light filled him up and he knew
he must keep the sacred airship flying for now,
even if all the way from cockpit to tail
it was crowded with one vile sinner after another.
He tells me he picked me out right there among them,
behind where he sat in all his power and glory.
He promised to keep me safe from hell, however,
although I’d attacked him. Attack is the word he’d chosen,
even if all I’ve sought is Willie sober.
I’m no savior. All I can use to help him
is my own history, which should be obliquely
related at least to his. But no, it isn’t:
On my worst drunk day, I was less fucked-up than Willie.
Willie’s not right. His life and world are beyond me.
(Not that I’ve had no delusions. I’m sure I still do.)
I’m going to save you—he says it again—for now.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.