How I Became a Prophet

Mark Richardson

Mark Richardson (sketch by Yassy)

The phone rang. It was a man from the bureau.

“Congratulations,” he said. I wanted an explanation,

but the line went dead. Then the doorbell rang.

I hung up the phone, walked through the living

room, and opened the door. A man in a suit stood

on the porch. “Congratulations,” he said. “What for?”

I asked, but he’d already let himself in. “I’m here

to give you the third degree,” he said. “The secretary

sent me.” He set his briefcase down on the coffee-table,

opened it, and took out a Ryobi drill and a Swiss-made

tape-recorder. “Go ahead,” I said. “Do the honours.”

He seemed delighted, but he did them anyway.

I’ve never talked so much in my life. The man

recorded every word on his Nagra Seven. Dawn broke.

He’d blinded me somewhere along the way,

but I could hear the birds. Down the street, someone

mowed a lawn. When the man in the suit finished,

he put away the drill and placed the tapes in my hands.

“Transcribe them all,” he said. “You can touch-type,

right?” “Yes,” I said. “But why?” “You’re going

to found a new religion,” he said. “I’m putting

a Smith & Wesson 686 on the table. Touch it and see.”

So I did. And that is how I became a prophet.




Independence Day, North Augusta

A lawn is a skin-graft, or a Hamburg Massacre.

I grew up in a town of 12,883 people.

It fields a SWAT team.

A small road called Cally’s Alley

connects the stadium to the cemetery.

In 1953, From Here to Eternity opened

on “the new superhighway to [the] H-Bomb plant.”

Kicking old stoves down the gully was good fun.

Under Ford’s administration

we blew dogwoods out with black powder

packed in spent CO2 cartridges. Our reply

to any question posed by a snake

was a garden hoe. On December 6, 1975,

Henry Kissinger cupped his ear in Jakarta.

Suharto promised him a small guerilla war,

but not a short one.


In the silent orchards of the union

something ripens, then explodes.

America—it’s like the paperless office.

Everyone spoke of its coming.


Note the location of the H-bomb plant bottom right!



My employment history was checkered.

I didn’t get out much. And the people

down the block—they kept to themselves

mostly, as neighbors will. The last ten days

were a monster rush. Now there’s only

this sincere farce, and then another brain

to be nervous about, or a heart to help

make empty. Remember the word

of the prophet: a mountain rises ahead,

hauling us all into shadow and glass-laden

sleep, like any other goon bent on murder.




Christ’s Last Thoughts (Luke 23:34)

Oh, screw it. Forgive them all––my people,

the priests, the scribes, Pilate, the soldiers,

Judas, whomever. The gentiles, too. And

the Mormons, just for good measure. None

of them knows what the hell they’re doing.

None. Not one. True, my first thought,

when they hoisted me up Golgotha––

because, you know, I’m partly only human––

was to say: “Christ, you frigging assholes.

I ride into town on a donkey, fix the exchange

rates, and this is how you thank me?

You people make Pilate look like a saint.

And as for you, Dad, where the hell are you

when I’m this far up the creek? Holy Mother

of God, I typed it up in Aramaic to make sure

you’d get the tweet: ‘Eli Eli lama sabachthani?’

Guess I should’ve tweeted it in Hebrew, too.

And in French, the language on all the airmail.

I’ve got half a mind to take your name in vain.

Has man of virgin born ever been so forsaken

as me, your bastard son? Listen: you got all three

of us into this mess. Mom won’t even be cleared

of sin till 1864. The malefactor to my left

is railing at me, ‘If thou be Christ, save thyself

and us.’ And us? What a jerk. The malefactor

to my right rails back, ‘Dost not thou fear God?’

Me? Fear God? Sweet Jesus, give me a break.

Can’t a brother die in peace? And Peter, yes,

I’m talking to you now––I see you down there.

I mean, WTF? Could ye not watch with me

one hour? That’s, what, two episodes

of Friends? But no, you sold me out

to a damsel. ‘Thou also wast with Jesus

of Galilee,’ she said. And you denied me.

Then, when you walked out to the porch,

another girl spotted you and said, ‘This fellow

was also with Jesus of Nazareth.’ What is it

with you and these women? You don’t even

want me for a wingman? If that cock hadn’t

crowed, how many more ‘damsels’ would you

have tried to get in good with by denying me?

You’re no kind of rock for me to build

my church on.” Then the scales fell from my

eyes. “Oh, what’s the use,” I told myself.

“Stop kvetching. Nobody has a clue. So, yeah,

forgive them all, Dad. Let’s get this thing

over with and strike the set. I could really use,

like, 72 hours of sleep. God knows I’ve got

work to do between now and Judgment Day.”



I put down The New York Review of Books and thought: “I should read some Thomas Hood.” The refrigerator was humming. It’s been humming ever since my wife taped a pound of Semtex to the door. Things began to get strange around the house after she did that. I bought myself a big bottle of Christ and drank it.

There’s a well-furnished island, somewhere in the heart of space, where no one’s sanctified, or even mourned; and on it stands a modest home from southwest Michigan—headshots in the den, reds on parasols by the door, beds in luminols off the hall. If the art of the possible has its inverse, I think we’ll find it there.

What unexploited reserves the mind holds, its tar sands, its shoals of cod, its Afghan copper—and Mr. Shangri-La by the hotel pool with his Glock 17. What a pistol. It’s no rose garden, but it has a green thumb and can grow one.

Like any machine, the body makes mistakes. Fine motor skills degrade to hapless zero, after which comes the long retreat into lingering and translation. The sexton down the road writes up a first-rate plot—twelve-hundred thread-count sheets and a five-pound trigger-pull. Knockout curb appeal. His green-eyed Abyssinian’s cantering up the road. She’s on a three-beat tear tonight, horning in. Once, the Secret Service tried to wrestle her to the ground.

The liquor’s in the freezer, humming.



Rural Georgia, USA, photo by the author