by Susan Mitchell

I ran into the afterlife.
No fluffy white clouds. Not even stars. Only sky
dark as the inside of a movie theater
at three in the afternoon and getting bigger all the time,
expanding at terrific speed
over the car which was disappearing,
flattening out empty
as the fields on either side.

It was impossible to think
under that rain louder than engines.
I turned off the radio to listen, let my head
fill up until every bone
was vibrating—sky.

Twice, trees of lightning
broke out of the asphalt. I could smell
the highway burning. Long after, saw blue smoke twirling
behind the eyeballs, lariats
doing fancy rope tricks, jerking silver
dollars out of the air, along with billiard cues, ninepins.

I was starting to feel I could drive forever
when suddenly one of those trees was right in front of me.
Of course, I hit it—
branches shooting stars down the windshield,
poor car shaking like a dazed cow.
I thought this time for sure I was dead
so whatever was on the other side had to be eternity.

Saw sky enormous as nowhere. Kept on driving.
“Once, Driving West of Billings, Montana” appears in Susan Mitchell’s collection The Water Inside the Water (Wesleyan University Press, 1983).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Susan Mitchell grew up in New York City and now lives in Boca Raton, Florida. She has a B.A. in English literature from Wellesley College, an M.A. from Georgetown University, and was a PhD student at Columbia University. She has taught at Middlebury College and Northeastern Illinois University, and currently holds the Mary Blossom Lee Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at Florida Atlantic University. She has published poems in literary journals and magazines including The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The American Poetry Review, The New Republic, Ploughshares, and The Paris Review. Her poems have also been included in five volumes of The Best American Poetry and two Pushcart Prize volumes. (Source:

PHOTO: “Montana, Big Sky Country” by Sherri Jo, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED