Leaving Hell

As we pack, the air conditioning breaks down.
The landlord, up to his neck in shit on the fifth circle,
canít come fix it. I lug fat suitcases downstairs
into jellied heat, perspiration on my face
thick and greasy as if spread by a butter knife.
Over oaks trees I see the Exxon plant
spuming smoke into a sky the color of dead tissue
left too long in formaldehyde. In the parking lot
our neighbor runs after us on freckled bare feet,
sloshing through air thick as oyster stew.
She has wall-thumping sex with her boyfriend
at 2 a.m. every night while we lie awake
and stare into the curdled dark, but today,
as I cram luggage into the open rump of our Volvo
and wipe my face with my shirt, she hands my wife
a foil-wrapped sweet potato pie for our journey
to Paradise, where the temperature is always perfect,
where we will only worry about our tans.

Yesterday, for our last night in Hell, we ate at Seropís:
lamb, fat and sweet, and babaghanoush
smoky and sharp with garlic. At the next table sat
the provost, who forgot my name, and his wife,
who remembered because I used to date her best friend.
The waitress was a former student who liked
my astronomy class, even if you canít see the stars
at night in Hell, and gave us creme brulee for free.
Afterwards, we went to Mís, on the third circle,
to hear Lucinda Williams sing about Baton Rouge.
I was surprised how many people there we knew.
Hell is getting small; I suppose everyoneís moving
out west to Paradise, like us.

All of that is receding today, though Hell is so flat
memories never vanish, only loiter on the horizon.
We drive out of the seventh circle, past Satanís hairy belly
where our friends have all gathered to wave goodbye,
smiling despite the flames of agony that char their bodies.
Beyond them Interstate 10 points like a compass needle
to Paradise, where houses costs $400,000,
where money is considered a form of poetry,
and the malls are full of people we do not know.