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.

The Saddest Heart at the Egocentric Supermarket

Just Beneath the Surface by Damian Michaels

Like a tramp choir crying,
like a coat made out of lead,
ink spilled in water, a bird
beating about the cruel wires of a cage . . .

Wesley Moore “What Guilt Feels Like”

O wolves of memory! Immensements!

Philip Larkin, “Sad Steps


Yes, some memories should be locked away
In impenetrable safety deposit boxes,
The keys thrown away,

Those faux paus of yore, poxes
That that have pitted your past.
Oh my God, how could you have been so obnoxious?

Better yet, let’s wrap those indiscretions in x-ray aprons and cast
Them into oblivion’s untroubled ocean,
Chanting like defrocked priests, “What is done is done, what is past is past is past.”


			

Wesley’s Inferno: Canto 5

Canto 5

 

 

 

Catullus put the vehicle in gear

backing up out of our space.

“We’re getting on out of here,

 

going to another place,”

to witness gluttony and avarice,”

similar sins that we can easily trace

 

“back to bad-old-fashioned self-centeredness,

the mother lode of all evil.” The whirr

on the screen of the soulless rutting couples’ nakedness

 

receded in the rearview mirror

as we drove down hell’s rutted road,

the end of my journey seeming no nearer

 

than it had centuries ago.

We crossed a wooden bridge

beneath which glowed

 

a cloud of phosphorescent midges

biting and stinging a mass of obesity,

pulsing like amoebae in garbage.

 

“Here’s where the greedy spend eternity —

Trimalchio, Thackery, Ponzi, Imelda Marcos —

no longer possessing individuality,

 

“now nothing but an indistinguishable bolus

of inextinguishable desire,

a very different type of lust,

 

burning toxic like a dumpster fire.”

How much longer, I wondered,

would I be turning, turning in this narrowing gyre?

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.

Wesley’s Inferno, Canto 1

wesley-canto-1

 

 

In the second month of my 64th year,

I awakened in an all but abandoned

strip shopping center

 

where a scrawny hound

limped up and growled

mouth-foaming, rabid.

 

Suddenly, a screech —  an owl?

The hound turned around,

so I stepped away leaden-legged, slowly

 

away, inching straight ahead

with great effort, like in a nightmare,

petrified with dread.

 

Looking up, I noticed the car,

a cab, parked in the shadow

of a dumpster. “Sir! –“

 

“Shhhh, chill, thyself,” the driver said, “whoa.”

“Let me introduce myself.

I’m pretty sure you know

 

“The name Catullus. I’m here to help,

to be your guide,

but sushssssssssh, you whelp,

 

“you’ll awaken the dead

with that loud mouth.

C’mon, man, don’t be scared,

 

“Hop in. We’ll head south,

tour the hellscape,

the land of the uncouth.”

 

Click here for Canto 2.

 

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