By Simon Sykes
At one point some way along our path in life, I woke in Verge’s place,
Amongst the dark wood, within the city, a wilderness, harsh and brute.
Verge, having saved me from wolf or leopard; I forget – at first mute, then spoke;
‘Tea?’ I replied only to provoke his wise commentary;
‘We record our gains willingly, until the hour that leads to loss;
Then every single thought is yoked on tears and sadness!’
He handed me my tea; ‘I believe you’re right, my man.’
Some time lapsed as we both considered the exchange. Then;
‘I have to go to the Council…miseria ‘. He shifted his frame.
‘Countless attempts through trial and costly error to restore
The simple antique drainage!
They send a poor incumbent; he fails; another comes; he fails better…
Countless others follow, failing, complaining
Of money, of parts, and then of leaders; then of fear, then of apathy;
Whilst I complain simply of a nauseous marsh about my own abode!’
He breathes deeply and hears that shrill cry;
‘Did you not once know that place?’
‘Something of it.’ My sombre retch unravels; ‘Why seek such grief and harm?’
It’s a sore waste to climb that ravine… Why should we climb?’
I looked outside as Verge contemplated an axe falling, and crouched low;
‘Beatrice! She had her say and in tears she turned her eyes away.
And so unwanting every want, and so altering all at every altering thought.
‘Though entrammelled on the hill, he must free himself from fear!’
Verge swings upward; ‘There is another road. You should follow and I shall guide.
You will see those souls.’ The prospect of it sickens the Guide even.
‘I have seen those souls already and dread the sight again.
They live in fire, content only to hope…’ I protested.
Verge made to move and I, unable to refuse, stood ready to come behind…
‘We’ll listen to the end … and then.’
As with all plans and projects in harness – and as with Truth and Beauty,
And the Love that lingers – and their seeking and adoration; we lingered longer still.
Verge spoke then; ‘If we were to journey…imagine…
Finish your tea, then we should go.’
Dawn long gone, preparing as for war, we took the deep and savage road,
We passed the empty foreclosed premises,
Laid waste and ravaged by clumsy, counting, ideologue.
Then the vast retail deserts of miles of valueless nothing.
We approached the concrete ravine; Verge stopped as in dread.
‘Look at me hard’, I said. ‘Am I in spirit strong enough?’
He mused; ‘a single Will inspires us!
See the Sistema in motion; to and for the citizens?
It snuffs out the living wits of men.’
We moved toward the summit doors; I muttered out the words inscribed thus:
“Welcome to YOUR Council”. ‘What does that mean?’ I shiver;
‘Niente!’, spoke Verge, ‘you read it wrongly; see the dark tones! Listen !’
“Per me si va ne la città dolente
per me si va ne l’etterno dolore
per me si va tra la perduta gente
Dinanzi a me non fuor cose create se non etterne, e io etterno duro
Through me you go to a city of grief
through me to everlasting pain
through me to pass among lost souls
Nothing till I was made was made and I endure eternally…
Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate
Abandon all hope as you enter…”
‘Good grief,’ I whisper, my head tight-bound in confusion.
‘Here we are all – now among the souls who have lost the good that intellect desires to win.’
Verge placed his hand on my own shoulder, and set me on in.
There, discordant tones, harsh accents of horror, tormented words, the twang of rage, Strident voices – the sound of smacking hands;
The foyer, large and dim with swirling sand it seemed…
The mob, the citizenry, the baleful condition; the noisome choir,
A few I recognised.
‘Maintenance?’ my Guide enunciates amid the storm and torrent.
‘That way, Mate’, replies the deceiver demon with hot-coal eyes.
He swept all in and struck at any dawdler with his oar.
We assimilate to the lift. ‘This will only give a callous impression of ascent,’ warns Verge.
‘The ascent is in fact a harsh contrariness – we descend in raw despair;
These are not Floors to perch upon; they are Circles that gallery another ravine.’
Everywhere, furrow after furrow of eternal bodies crouched in terminal light;
‘Let us not speak to them; look if you must, but pass them by!’
We exit to the deep stream that swept all in.
‘Wrong floor – circle, “Finanza”, “Informatica”, suggested Verge.
Thunder rolling heavily in our heads, we scanned each view.
‘Let us descend and enter this blind world.’ His face was pale.
‘It is the agony of those below that pale-paints my face.’
We skirt the circle peering into the space of those suspended there.
Seven gates and beyond, the seas of souls whose merit falls far short.
‘No one here has ever been redeemed…Brutus, Lucrecia, the Sultan Saladin,
Entire city states, ‘so spoke Verge with bewildered stare.
‘No! Wrong circle… again! “Servizi Cliente”- Perhaps!’
We descend deeper to the bounds of a lesser space and therefore to greater suffering.
‘Watch as you enter, and in whom you trust,’ whispers my Guide.
‘Don’t be fooled by the wide threshold…’
We were, it seems, all but lost and when we enquired: “Maintenance”?
They said without conviction, these tortured souls;
‘There is no greater sorrow than, in times of misery,
You hold at heart the memory of happiness…further on you must go.’
We came to conscious mind at this new torment.
Here, beings flattened by battering rain…
‘This can’t be the place,’ spoke Verge; he rubbed his tattooed arm.
‘These are those whose mouths are full of hunger for the meal to come…
Those with some kind of pretence at heavy labours’.
“’Cultura”’?’ I spoke in shallow breath. My Guide arched a brow, ‘it’s possible…’
So on around the sour, revolting pit we seek and find again the lift.
Our new pallor born of retreating courage is unchecked,
Whilst ever downward we are confronted with hypocrisy’s guardian;
A Gorgon, a Medusa seeking revenge on Theseus’ raid.
‘Turn around! Your back to her!’ Verge spoke and made me turn,
His hands closed on my own as I shielded my eyes.
(All you whose minds are sound and sane, look hard at the veiled meaning beyond the curtain here…)
The Gorgon stepped over us and drove through a thousand ruined souls or more,
Scattering them against the multitude of uffizi doors,
Open like tomb covers, releasing cruel lamenting from within.
I look in horror at my Guide…
‘“Risorsi Umane”’, he mumbles out, ‘“Contenzioso” to boot; for all their sins,
The Master Heretics; the Tyrants’ right hand;
They live between the torments and the high battlements’.
We circle the curve around that labyrinth, our own fury gnawing us inwardly away.
Down to a chamber where two factions; or perhaps more,
Holler in numbers greater than elsewhere,
Sending great boulders of insult against each other.
Cry and counter-cry across the dismal curve to either end,
(The diametric points), screaming shamefully insulting chants and back again;
‘What the fuck is this?’ I ventured to my guide. And Verge explained as if remotely:
‘Without exception, all of these have squinting minds
And can bear no check or measure on expense.
In this lot, avarice displays its worst.’
‘I should recognise a few’, I say.
‘Maybe…their mad sprees or febrile hoardings have wrung out of them
Any beauty in the world and brought them straight to this ugly brawl.’
‘Counsellors’ I venture further.
‘Consiglieri; you know it – but greater pain than this awaits… so perhaps…’
By the gorge on the brink of the sheer escarpment we find,
A stink arises from an utmost depth; we huddle together by the lid.
‘Best go down slowly; accustom ourselves to this grim belch.’
Each step is crammed with the spirits of the damned.
Deceit, Lies, Fraud, Betrayal of all that is dear – and the Traitors, every one.
‘This was never a place other than vile. Here the petty officials and their kind
Pay for every corrupt transaction made to the human detriment, in time.
Percentage thirty-niners intertwined by all that we abhor…
Depths plumbed in blood and spew and cowardice of scales unfathomed.
Fix your eyes ahead across the parapets’. We are near.
A great contraption had appeared; Sistema Infernale; I knew it from before.
Creatures were arranged therein, ice-cold; some heads raised,
Some soles aloft and grief must proceed from them all.
And centrally, a fallen body, not just two-faced, but three,
The rightward dirty yellow, the leftward the colour of the Nile’s source,
All conjoined; ice-bound…controlling All.
Each mouth, chews eternally on those above it; the centre jaw devours Judas Iscariot,
The sides take Cassius and Brutus – and any prominent traitor,
Responsible and accountable; cowardly and brutal in their ambitions;
Those who lived vindictively as they heaped on only pain and misery.
We cower in awe, our minds skewered in recognition;
Between the machinations, a Traitor true cries out;
‘What business do you have here!
You who stand firm and fight, you who twist and kick out;
So, what business?’
Verge emerges, I behind him, to confront the Inquisitor;
‘I have a “Maintenance” matter…it pivots in universal standstill…it…’
‘Wrong place! “Alloggio” here, “Housing” here, idiota!
Can you not see the signs so clear,
Behind the tides of misery and sorrow and sulphurous haze?
You need to crawl to another place! Begone!’
We’ve seen it all; this condemnation upon damnation.
Here the perpetual and eternal merge as one to show the way.
Verge looks about him in awe, ‘it’s time to quit this place.’
We slither through the centre grasping the stenched and icy sides,
We struggle back along a cruelly hard road.
I sway downward in confusion and in fearful cold to the Fire Escape I fall,
But Verge invokes me upward.
There, empty, void; a rank nothingness now set out before us.
‘How can this be?’ I stammer.
In answer, my Guide trudging on and upward, snorts derision…’Lunchtime is all’.
Moving in opposition to the river of oblivion, we reach the outside and touch the sky.
‘What a waste of time, precious time…until the next time and the next.’
Picture used according to a Creative Commons licence. By Wolfgang Sauber (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons