Revising Bosch’s Hell Panel for the 21st Century

by Kelly Michels

“Hundreds of couples toting AR-15 rifles packed a Unification church in Pennsylvania on Wednesday to have their marriages blessed and their weapons celebrated as ‘rods of iron’ that could have saved lives in a recent Florida school shooting.” Reuters, Feb. 28th 2018


They come wearing crowns of gold bullets in their hair, bodies drenched

in white satin, white lace, tulle, lining the pews on a weekday morning,


AR-15s in their hands, calling on god to save them. There is no

such thing as salvation, only the chosen and too few are chosen.


Children are told to stay inside, schools locked shut, swings hushed,

even the wind says, quiet, as the guns are blessed, dark O of mouths


waiting to exhale a ribbon of smoke. The children are told to crouch

in the closet, to stay still as butterflies on butcher knives


while the men take their brides and iron rods, saluting the book

of revelation, its scribbled last words, the coming of a new kingdom.


Don’t speak. Don’t breathe. Pretend you are an astronaut gathering wisteria

twigs in a crater of the moon. Pretend the twigs are the arm of a broken mandolin.


Someday, it will speak. Someday it will sing. Dear God, bless the self in the age

of the self, bless this bracelet of rifle shells, bless our god-given individual


right. I know you want to sing. You want to sing like blackbirds escaping

from the mouth of a grasshopper. But remember, we are only here


for a little while, so for now, keep quiet, pretend we are somewhere else.

Pretend we’re practicing our handwriting, the lollipop of a lowercase i,


the uppercase A, a triangle in an orchestra, the different sounds it makes

if you strike it the right way. Practice the slow arch of a R. Now—


form the words. Scribble run, scribble come, scribble mom, scribble when

will this be over? But for god’s sake, be quiet. Don’t cry. Just write. Scribble


on the walls, on your arms, scribble as if it’s the last thing you will ever say.

Pretend it sounds like music. And if the devil comes through that door, remember


to go limp, lie on the floor like a tumble of legos. Don’t move. Don’t speak.

Don’t breathe. Pretend you’re already dead. Remember, this is how you live.


Kelly Michels is currently pursuing a PhD at University College Dublin. Her honors include the Rachel Wetzsteon Poetry Prize from 92nd Street Y, the Spoon River Poetry Review Editor’s Prize, the Robert Watson Literary Prize from Greensboro Review, and an Academy of American Poets Prize. Her poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Third Coast, Best New Poets, Green Mountains Review, among others. Her most recent chapbook, Disquiet, was published by Jacar Press in 2015.

One thought on “Revising Bosch’s Hell Panel for the 21st Century

  1. Kelly Michael’s poem Revising .Bosch’s…hell panel for the 21 St Century is well done in the sense of taking a viseral account of white sheeted church goers Stark against a Holy background all brandishing cradling AK – 47’s to be blessed as yesterday’s philosophical warriors now come together in an inner communion of sacriledge and posterity in the name of God is for kelly an unending visualization of Hell passed over and revisited symbolically. Well done,Kelli


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