Without Bert, Ernie Lost in Purgatory by
Ryan G. Van Cleave


Having slipped on a spay-wet log,
Ernie tumbles headfirst into a chute
where he remains lodged between
rocks pressing hard into his balding scalp.
His strings lie torn and ragged-
no one's around to tug them anyway.
A hatch of mosquito's work at his legs,
his soft melon belly. Through tears,
he considers prayer, asking God
to bestow blessedness, divine intervention
upon his twisted body, but his voice
is the noise of a tree frog, incomprehensible.
With philosophic calm, the clouds release
rain, each pinprick of water a millionth
of a fraction harder, faster. As the tube
begins to fill, becoming a water casket,
Ernie thinks one last time of Bert, imagining
his chiffon friend cleaning a hunting rifle,
oiling to cold wooden stock, then testing
the weight of the bullet to put out his life.


Ryan G. Van Cleave