lie completely sealed in ice…
--Canto XXXIV, Circle 9: The Inferno
You’ve heard the jokes
about the insurance salesman and some guy
locked in a soundproof eight-by-ten cell,
or the one about being stalled in traffic
with your mother-in-law and her choir of tongues,
the windows cranked up and with no heat.
In grammar school, the old Irish priest
told us the walls were
four thousand miles thick,
that the fire was without seam and everlasting
like a Latin teacher’s conjugation of verbs.
But I always thought it was the way
Hieronymus Bosch saw it with special effects,
vapors and strobe lights, or like being trapped
with an eternity of Munch’s screamers,
their faces dripping that dripless wax.
Today it’s a used car salesman
who won’t give you back your car keys,
or the hail of Have a nice day from the cashier
who is buffing her nails and snapping her gum,
you looking up from the circle of ice,
the defroster in your car still not working.
“Hell” was originally published in Spoon River Poetry Review, 1993.