Sunday May 26

Anderson Doug Anderson’s most recent book, Keep Your Head Down: Vietnam, The Sixties, and a Journey of Self-Discovery was published last year by W.W. Norton.  He is at work on his third book of poems, Loose Cantos: An Engagement With Dante. He teaches in the Pacific University of Oregon MFA Program.



       Canto I

Gehenna Travel

The crawl line in the video
above the counter reads
If you can think of it, we're doing it
intercut with lurid shots:
a man hung upside down
and bleeding, beaten
by a punked-out devil with a chain.
Then she steps up, her smile is real,
even if her shoes are fitted
for cloven hooves, tail coiled
and tied against her leg.
She likes her job. I tell her, No,
I don't want the Seniors Tour.
I'm not so old I can't climb
a rocky slope or wade through shit.
I want the Single Pilgrim Package.
Yes, I know how much it costs.
She tells me Virgil no longer
does the tours: he's retired:
now Dante serves as guide.
She runs my card. I sign.
Lunch then at The Crossroads
where décor is Leopard, Lion,
and the She Wolf who waits on me
is from Hoboken with her infernal cleavage.
I've come to where my own way
doesn't work -- it's nothing new:
I'm lost with all my century.
Everytime I hope that some force,
some bright being, nay God, will turn
us back toward a purpose
the opposite of greed
some inner laughter drowns me out:
it's like the bottle thrown from
a rooftop on thirteenth street
that shattered at my feet
when I was wandering mindlessly
in love. Some cold thing
always slaps me back
into a world that mitigates against
the thought that reality, too,
is light. Such utterance invokes a sneer.
Dante tells me in his poem
I'll see the stars again
but I'll have to go down first.
Hell. Might as well. The shuttle's here.
I pay and lug my backpack to the gate.
They leave me on a treeless plane.
Horizon melded with earth
by whorls and whirls of yellow dust.
No one tells me what to do
and in a while I start to walk,
sanded by the wind, losing skin
and name. I close my eyes against
the grit and then I see him
faintly in the day's last light:
a silohuette of flowing robes.
I smell the fishy funk of Acheron.


       Canto II

       Acheron Marina

I wait with Dante.
We see the high vee of Charon's spray:
His Cigarette cuts blackwater
toward us, ping
of beer can off the prow.
Water, tea-colored near the pier,
floats its clot of fish heads.
He cuts the engines. Drifts close,
red eyes
moving behind the mirror shades,
sneer twisted up and right
to flash a stained fang.
He's shaped a Mohawk
out of icy white.
He closes, knocks the dock.
Exhaust gurgles the shallows.
His boat's named Bitch, filagreed
in gold gothic.
He growls, "Get in. Got to be
back at three;
some bankers coming down."
We climb aboard: I help Dante up
(He's light, for Chrissakes).
"Another fucking pilgrim?" Charon says
looks me over once and spits,
brings Bitch about and throttles up.


      The Fundamentalists


     Just in front of me a female walks,
     Papa Innocente tattooed on her butt.
     Her tail twitches, coils,
     snaps a horsefly off her thigh.
     Demons, beer in plastic cups,
     hotdog vendors pushing carts,
     a clutch of highshod whores:
     one extols the talents
     of her dextrous tail.
     At the door a devil in a tophat
     thrusts a cattle prod across my chest,
     "The fuck are you?"
     My guide points to the passes
     dangling from our necks:
     the devil raises prod in mock salute.
     We pass. An imp, incubus
     astride his hump, blocks our way,
     offers red-lensed glasses on a tray.
     Dante said, "The tormented here
     are burned with mental forms
     they've spent their lives perfecting –
     all imagination skewed through flues
     that knowledge cannot transit
     without becoming sick. Since we
     can't see what they see
     we must wear these." He holds
     the glasses up. "But watch a while
     without them and you'll know
     what they see and what they suffer."
     Our passes get us seats down front.
     On stage, Reverend Hagee stalks
     among the other preachers tortured there:
     a spasm ripples through
     the naked length of him. He shouts,
     "Why hast thou forsaken me?"
     (Someone in the audience farts.)
     As if worms work just below the skin
     the reverend's face transforms,
     eyes hubcap huge. Upstage
     a nude woman bends to tie her sandal on.
     Her hair falls and frames her face:
     she shakes it out, wet and glistening
     in the morning light, drops her towel,
     breasts now free. I am stricken by love
     for Beatrice, Ilaria or Angela,
     the ones inside the one I could not have,
     who haunt all the rest;
     Dante touches my shoulder,
     Brings me back, points to
     the red-lensed glasses in my hand.
     I put them on: everything I'd cherished
     in that vision, that divine simplicity,
     now writhes within itself.
     Through the reverend's eyes
     I see she's a clot of fangs and pustules
     that springs forth, snaps at his groin,
     chews and chortles like a baby.
     I scream. Dante rips the glasses
     from my head: There, as before,
     the woman holds up her hair
     and dries her neck.The room
     fills with the scent of honeysuckle.
     but the good reverend howls,
     "Jesus will come for me, you'll see!"
     A demon throws a hotdog at his head,
     leaves a smear of mustard on his cheek.