Oh most miscreant rabble, you who keepThe Divine Comedy, Dante Alighier,
the stations of that place whose name is pain,
better had you been born as goats or sheep!
We stood now in the dark pit of the well,
far down the slope below the Giant’s feet,
and while I still stared up at the great wall,
I heard a voice cry: “Watch which way you turn:
take care you do not trample on the heads
of the forlorn and miserable brethren.”
The Inferno, Canto XXXII, lines 13-21
Sprouting from the shards, those frozen tears of Cocytus,
a single, clear blossom—the head defies the shadow of its field.
The eyes, though they may blaze beneath swollen lids, cannot be seen.
The tongue, swallowed by the pain, hibernates, mute, buried a full night’s journey within.
Ejecta from the mouth shares its deadened pallor with lips and chin:
blood or phlegm or bruise-hued bile, there is more life to the secretion than what remains inside.
So dead, this head might be dismissed as stone, a step to trip upon, if not for those hands.
Curving, reaching petals attached to a withered bloom, they press, caress, and clasp at frosted air.
One is stronger, surer than the other. So near the face they brush its surface. It cannot flinch.
Do they intend love? Do they mean harm? Beneath the soul-cracked surface, do they grow from a hunched shoulder, a desiccated neck?
Then ten fingers betray their truth. Nine count off; the clean, bronze clap of an evening bell.
The last digit makes no sound; the muted stub of a second thumb.
It is not right. There is no right. Both thumbs are left. Left to share their secret.
These hands ascend, unequal twins. One cannot be his.
That one reaches for him. The other is too weak, too wasted to defend.
That one will gouge and pinch and pull. The head will be drawn down, beneath the surface. There to lie, a seed returned to the blasted ground of Cocytus.
It will emerge again, one full night’s journey away; watered as it is, so steadily, by the pouring out of man’s ceaseless sin.