Canto 6 of Wesley’s Inferno

Three months before my wife died of Lymphoma, I began as a sort of mental escape exercise to write a parody of Dante’s Inferno in terza rima, a verse form very inimical to rhyme-starved English. In fact, even though Dante used terza rima in his Commedia, I know of no English translation of that great work that employs it.

My plan was to write nine cantos, each consisting of nine stanzas, to render an abbreviated trip through the nine circles of hell, having as my guide the Roman poet Catullus, rather than Virgil, who led Dante through the nether regions.

Alas, my poem, now two thirds completed with this latest canto, is a failure because – guess what – writing terza rima in English is nearly impossible unless you’re a master like Shelley (see his “Ode to the West Wind”). Some of it comes off as silly, for which I apologize.

Nevertheless, I’m determined to finish it, even though I myself don’t pretend to know what it means, and cast it out into the ones and zeroes of the Internet.

Canto 6

As the rutted road like a corkscrew twisted downward
through darkness, the cries of lamentation
abated, and a more martial clash we heard

as we entered the circle of anger, an infestation,
of spiteful wretches screaming, biting, gouging,
their wounds never-healing, a damnation

deserved, according to Catullus, slouching
behind the wheel of the hell cab. “Violence
is the bane of humanity. See that man crouching

behind the rock there, sliced and bleeding?
That’s none other than Pee Wee Gaskins,
podunk mass murderer, receiving

forevermore the very same tortures he wrought
upon his brethren, and over there Joseph Goebbels,
leper-like, oozing sores, with agony forever fraught.

We were in the small intestines of hell,
as it were, the stench overpowering,
the horrors too horrible to tell

with words, the previous circles towering
above us, the worst still yet to come.
I closed my stinging eyes, myself cowering

in the backseat of the cab. “Oh, for a drop of rum,”
I sighed, and Catullus smiled, pulled out a flask,
“Here,” he said, reaching back, “please have some.

It’s not much to ask
after what you’ve been through,
donning the sackcloth with a mouthful of ash.

Wesley’s Inferno, Canto 3

 

Canto 3

 

Charon chided Catullus as the cab

pulled into a line labeled LUST.

Waving arms, speaking Latin, babbling,

 

Catullus flashed credentials. Trust me;

Charon was one ugly dude. Liberace crossed

with Elephant Man, plus a dash of Jackie Gleason,

 

snot running down his nose, the grossest

shit I’d ever seen. As we rolled onto the one-car ferry,

it occurred to me that here there was no rest,

 

no coffee breaks, no take five, no reprieves.

The river, appropriately hellish, polluted,

frothing, malodorous, reeking

 

of industry and death. I recruited

all my strength, closed my eyes, the screech

of machinery assaulting unabated.

 

I passed out, my sense driven beyond the reach

of enduring. A thunderclap awakened me

after what seemed centuries. “That’ll teach

 

you,” Catullus, said enigmatically,

apropos of zilch. “When’s the last time

you’ve been to a drive in?” he asked. “See,

 

bro you, bout to get dipped into some slime,

awful porno, meet punishment for the lustful,

who squandered earth-time

 

always seeking sex, overdoing it, never fulfilled.”

The ferry approached a dimly lit dock,

An oily humidity had replaced the river’s dank chill.