Dante Project

Eighteen Fragments: a poem based on the text of Inferno

Thanks, if he’ll accept them, to Dave Bonta over at Via Negativa for introducing me to erasure poetry through his ongoing efforts at that website. The initial results of my foray into this form were horrible—I’m not just saying thatand yet it produced bits of language that seemed worth preserving. Longfellow’s translation of Inferno introduced a formality to these fragments that allows them at times get away with saying things that would otherwise come off as smarmy. I had thought about including links to the original versions of these poems, but since the revision has broken the form of erasure, and because the originals are so utterly loathsome, I’ve decided to let them stand unreferenced. Two of the twenty cantos erased were beyond any redemption, so only eighteen fragments appear here.

I consider the shark of Dante’s erasure poems jumped. I’ll say no more about this. --JM

1. The Portal
Midway I found
a forest.
The straightforward pathway
was this forest.
There I found,
a mountain's foot,
consternation and my heart.
I was fleeing onward.
A panther impeded me
with love divine:
that wild beast,
that gave me fear
with head uplifted,
with hungerings.
She brought terror upon me.
I cried,

“Was I born
under false and lying gods
that have impelled me to explore
veins and pulses,
this savage place?

Within the fire
the blessed people
shall be worthy.
By that same trial
conduct me
that I may see the portal.”

2. Savage
Animals of earth,
assist me now!
Guide me bodily
into the world.
Upon a dark hillside,
upon a desert slope,
through terror I have risen
that I may be consoled
in presence of this furnace,
at this impediment that
stands friend of all.
unto thee I came as
that wild beast.
Nocturnal chill
whitens my heart. 
With these words 
I now go,

3. I Fell
To the city: among the people
of joyful mien,
words whirling on
for ever in that air,
I commingled,
envious of every other fate.
But I looked again
and recognized.
People said, "What shall lead
to the other shore yonder,
to eternal living
and guide around wheels of flame
souls who are weary
of their engendering
and of their birth?"
One by one
passed a good soul,
being finished of
the land of tears.
And as a human
I fell.

4. From the Quiet
Within the valley
let us be first aware
of infants and of women and of men,
spirits who through the forest
saw a fire that overcame darkness:
a distant place.
Together they honor the light;
keep silent.
I entered
a meadow.
People were there
with gentle voices,
mighty spirits
whom I knew:
the little family
who puts the world
in full company
conducts me
forth from the quiet.

5. Forgotten

Begin now
as the sea does:
hither, thither, downward, upward,
and as the cranes go:
so voluptuous,
so many
and more than bewildered
through the purple air;
so strongly,
yet conducted;
borne along
all one spirit
and even as one body.

6. A Dog Has Passed Our Feet
A dog has passed
our feet
upon the earth,
a place you call
"The Divided City."

Tell me why.
I wish to learn
why in this sweet world
just a little sound
of rain
is a mighty sentence
of pleasure
and of perfection.

7. Recycling
He turned upon the heaps
and waste
with great howls, crying,
"If all were clerks,
clerks who practice farce,
the human race
might change empty treasures
to human wisdom
as marsh into a meadow!
See all this mud
which the sun gladdens.
We are gurgling,
circling round
a great miracle:
the swamp!"

8. Swiftly

Let us swiftly
take what is given,
for this world
whatever is new.

9. Sentinel's Horn
Through the heavy fog,
the conch began
its doleful phrase.

He seemed weary,
this one who had gone ahead
and who must stay behind.
He turned his chin
and spoke no word,
had the look of one
who hides distress
and shuts off borders,
so doesn’t ask
what all those people
will make on the other side.
When he turned away, we passed.

10. The Ruined Cemetery
Along a path
and the city wall
I follow back
to these tombs.
Inhabitants have left
their cemetery
upon this side
from the Tuscan city.
Speaking modestly
the sepulchre's words:
"A shadow is my name
that was so full
and shared
your human state.

Move along
the radiance
of the journey
that is the path along this wall.
Find how it strikes out at last
into an open valley."

11. Genesis
Rocks upon rocks!
Fraud may be used with reason
by our neighbor.
And ruin and arson
and violence can be done
with conscience
and confidence,
so too hypocrisy, flattery
falsification, theft,
and the like.
But there is a forgotten circle
where the water’s clear enough,
and within that lagoon
the wind and rain encounter
a yielding surface.
Nature takes course.
Carefully find your art,
that is, your genesis,
and find hope now
among quivering fishes.

12. The Homeless Man
The other
was marked by
gnarled thorns.
He began to say things
that utterly bewildered us.
Therefore I plucked
a thorn and cried,
"Why mangle words?”

He said:
"Come look upon the leaves.
Gather them up--
that which changed forever--
and be done."

13. Invasion
The bears open fire.
The Paduans hunker in their villages.

I stretch a fiend’s arm.
“Are you Brunetto?”
And he: “Let the trail go on from here.”
I say: “Down with you
a hundred years,
and afterward eternal doom.”
Down the road I go serene
in my glory.
I judge life beautiful.
I get to see heaven early
and also these malignant people:
sweet bear food all the way.

The world proclaims my enemy
avaricious, envious, proud.
Take heed of their customs.

My mind is fixed;
my heart is good.
In the world I am grateful
that my language can create fortune.

Therefore, the mattock
On his right cheek, I say:
“Brunetto, I ask who you are.”
He: “Others were silent.”
I say: “Behold! New smoke yonder.
A people live no more.”
Then he turns. He seems to be
one of those, seems to be among them:
the ones who lose.

14. The Lover Recalls
The reverberation of water falling
and rain came to us.
Remember it now. Nature
overtook us face, neck and foot.
The soft place in ourselves
let us incline along footprints,
naked, greater than wisdom
and fame in the world.
Wife, could I have been protected
from embracing sorrow?
Your needs shine
as they used to do,
or they have gone out
with us, without words,
with face uplifted for reply
as one looks at truth.
Therefore, agile legs were wings.
The sound of water was so near us
we called it down into its low bed.
I had a cord around me
unloosed and thrown down an abyss
into the new, to this comedy
that returns sometimes or else
is hidden.

15. The Candidate
Vile monster, his tail
a little on the right,
said to me, “Experience this condition.
Concede to us, you melancholy folk.
Concede soil, summer, dogs, azure,
blood and thunder."
Then he twisted his mouth,
warned me, said,
“Both weak and bold,
these I will harm.
Take heed. Embrace me.”

16. Through a Mirror 
There is a place we hide
where just an image
of us faces blows.
But little wishes
bring us back,
bring us pain.
We moan beating upon
a human face
that resembles our own.

17. Debridement

Like a stake of silver,
either  your anger, I think,
or true words unveiled me.

18. Tiresias

 Tiresias changed from male.
Female, she once more wandered
and bathed in a river.
Naked she stayed and lived
and left her empty body
in that place.

She was made strong only by touches
from time to time.

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