John Prine The Tree of Forgiveness

[Oh Boy; 2018]

Styles: the metamodern sounds of country music, an afterlife
Others: Phil Ochs, Donald Hall, Sturgill Simpson

You don’t know about me, without—

Right, right, you don’t know me.

I died last night clearing branches and silt away from the sewage drain. I undammed the rainwater (a favorite storm-time activity since childhood) and stood back to admire those brand new rivulets. It was dark, after eight. I had headphones on top of my ears and I couldn’t hear that van and I stepped right into it and died. I don’t remember those details, really, but it’s what they told me when I got here.

They said, “buddy, you’re dead, and that’s how.” And I thought, “Wow, they call you ‘buddy’ in heaven,” and they said, “Buddy, this ain’t heaven yet,” and I thought, “Wow, they call you ‘buddy’ in hell,” and they slapped their foreheads and said, “This isn’t hell, either: you gotta prove where you gotta go.”

Which is where we are now, I guess.

Things end so much, you know? Summers, songs, strings, lives. We’re taught to accept an ending (my mom read me a picture book about death after pop pop died), but it still stings a little. I’m okay with it, I think, the dying. I had some blessings. I had good dogs.

My cousin got married last Friday. I’m sure glad I got to be alive for that. Down the shore, it was the warmest day in this spring and they first-danced to a Carly Rae bop and we drank Handsome Johnnys all night long.

What was I listening to?

Carly Rae.


When I died, right. What was I listening to. A sweet song, a looking up like coming home after the long trip, a honeycomb. You know, “I once had a family, but they up and left me/ With nothing but an 8-track/ Another side of George Jones.” A duet, my love today. There was only one minor key and a plucking acoustic six-string that sometimes felt so full of joy it had to take a measure to catch its breath. If I had to die (I do, I did!) it wasn’t a bad song to shuffle off to.

A Handsome Johnny is a cocktail comprised of vodka and ginger ale. There’s no recipe really. Just pour the two together any way you like; its approachable accessibility is the primary source of its worth. My cousin’s husband liked lime in his, but you don’t have to.

You know, Mark Twain once wrote, “Whoever has lived long enough to find out what life is, knows how deep a debt of gratitude we owe to Adam, the first great benefactor of our age. He brought death into the world.”

And Donald Hall wrote, “The young are never robbed of innocence/ But given gold of love and memory./ We live in wealth whose bounds exceed our sense,/ And when we die are full of memory.”

You know that arc on BoJack Horseman where he moves back to his mom’s childhood home and he fixes up the home with the help of a dragonfly named Eddie and there’s singing ghosts and Eddie cries and they almost die and BoJack demolishes the home and moves back to L.A. where he barely communicates with the only friend he might have and his dying mother doesn’t recognize him?


I don’t know what life is. And I don’t know what precisely Donald Hall meant, but I bet he meant don’t regret things and don’t be bigger than your self and be super kind to all kinds of folks. And have fun while you can. You gotta go where you gotta go.

Erin Popovich died recently, too. I hope the Spurs win the basketball game later. Take good care of her, yeah?

Which reminds me: my daddy would always always always say to me “Buddy, when you’re dead, you’re a dead pecker-head.”

I don’t know why, that just popped into my head.

I don’t know why, but it’s nice, you know?

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