Ned Balbo
May 2013


The Afterlife of Beatles

I like to think—dare I suggest, “Imagine?”—
that, since Heaven holds eternity,
even those souls who fought to keep their rage in
here on earth calm down eventually.
I think of John: top cat and caustic leader,
rhythm guitarist, wag, satiric wordsmith—
during rehearsals, unrelenting needler
loved and feared by those he tangled with.
He joined George at the Maharishi’s ashram,
Paul and Ringo, too; but, disillusioned,
stormed out, “He’s no holier than I am,”
angry to hear the guru, drunk or stoned,
seduced an actress on the same retreat.
No more for John. The yogi’s power was great,
but so was his defeat:
George, too, packed up, swayed by the innuendo
swirling through the camp, his open window.

That George chose meditation as the way
to calm and clarity is no surprise:
he worked for John and Paul, assigned to play
the classic solos both would criticize.
The night his dentist spiked the sugarcubes
for after-dinner coffee, George and John
panicked to find the world transformed into
bright flame that lapped the road they drove upon.
His acid days behind him, the sitar’s
consuming challenge finally given up,
George wrote his best songs, bent the slide guitar’s
high weeping to his will. Should he bring up
his song allotment on the next LP?
He would, then sped home, angry in his Mini—
“They can’t decide on any?”—
Lank-haired, mustachioed, devout believer
tired of slights, the price of Beatle-fever.

Now he’s gone, too. We’ve only Paul and Ringo—
extraordinary bassist and control freak
fluent in Scouse-slang and the boardroom’s lingo,
and the sad-eyed, sickly child weakling
who grew up to steady the Beatles’ beat.
A Knight widowed, divorced, Paul still makes music,
driven to keep the faith, perhaps create
one track or two per album with the kick
of those he wrote in youth. Sometimes he does.
Ringo makes records, too, to pay the bills,
face masked by shades, soothed by the distant buzz
of L.A. from his mansion in the hills.
Two men who both seem slightly out of place
in our own time, despite a famous face—
as if the carapace
of their identity could ever crack…
Irrationally, we want our Beatles back,

but John and George knew better. In the end,
one proud to call himself an atheist
rejected his own myth, let go our hand,
and sang, “The afterlife does not exist,”
the better to engage the world we know
for what good we can do. His songs got worse.
The other—part-time gardener, full-time Hindu,
ukulelist, self-proclaimed Dark Horse—
meditated on the ancient Vedas,
finding in their hymns a fiery cosmos
shining with the forces that create us,
All are one. Love all its highest Logos.
If Heaven belongs to Krishna, Christ, no one,
whatever its form—white island bleached by sun
or Cavern mocked by John—
who knows what kind of afterlife we’ll earn?
Two men: both seekers. Neither will return.


Originally appeared in Cimarron Review 180 (2012).