“The Core of Woe” by Kenneth Scambray

Kenneth Scambray


The Inferno: Canto XXXIV

Did the sirens sing to you in a garbled letter
Or on the lying lips of a returning bird?
What sent you on that road
Where you mingled with the damned,
Where the torn spirits of miners
Mocked your dreams?
You didn’t even have
Cocytus to slake your thirst.

Each day you descended into
Your circle of fire and ice
Where your boots and pick
Stirred the breathless coal dust.
The mute parakeet was
Your only deliverance,
Your only guide
The single beam in the middle of your forehead,
Like the eye of a Cyclops
Who, from the bowels of Etna,
Tossed white stones at defiant Odysseus,
Fleeing on the white-capped waters.
You heaved your black rock into rail cars
Destined only for the ovens
That turned your defiant dream
Into slag.

You never had the comfort of
A faithless wife
Or a besieged house.
Your blameless spirit is forever exiled.
Once on our first sojourn in Italy
Among the hills of Calabria,
You inquired after us in our dreams.
Now the clouds pass over your lost grave
Somewhere in Utah,
Where the swirling coal dust

Sucked the breath from your lungs
And at thirty-three
The mine became your rood.

from Rattle #20, Winter 2003
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