The Long Road to Teatime: Part 3
10 Over the valley of the therapists to the soup bowl of the malicious
Gently Dante takes my hand and guides me off my furry fish,
to lead me now up a rocky path and across a bridge
over a deep valley, long and narrow like a throat,
swallowing down huge tongues of flame.
This is the valley of bad therapists, who are hidden
in the flames of guilt that consume them
for the harm their wrong advice has caused.
But now I’m stuck, because who could describe, even in prose,
the pain suffered by those in the next level of hell?
Language isn’t big enough.
Here the troublemakers who caused discord when they were alive,
who made friends fall out and who split families,
are themselves split
and split, sliced
sliced and split
and split again but
still one, to be sliced
again and again and again sliced.
The screaming cuts through me till I cry out,
Hellish blender make soup
of them, make soup! Make soup!
11 Soberly we move on to the lowest levels of hell
This part is even harder for me to tell.
My stomach is cold with nerves,
I write with a grip on my face.
We have reached the levels where the treacherous plunge after death.
Dante leads me down past the traitors to their country
but when we reach the traitors to their families
he stops, and when he stops I stop with him.
Here are the parents who betrayed their children,
who turned away from the good in them
to complain about them to their friends,
who saw their children as obstacles
to their own rewards.
Screaming with horror they are forcing the children
into their gaping mouths, and the air is thick
with the smell of their children’s blood
running down their chins, drenching their clothes,
pooling at their feet.
I am retching, retching, dry mouthed.
I am terrified Dante will leave me here,
but speechlessly he leads me on.
12 Impossibly, he takes me down still further
Now we are truly at the bottom of the Inferno.
There are no flames here.
We walk across ice.
My feet skate over the ice and my attention skates
over the horrors of the bottom level. I think
I know my place.
But Dante nods at me to look downwards
and I look below my feet to see
those frozen below the ground.
It is impossible to speak to these figures,
sealed in ice, their postures distorted.
I open my mouth to ask Dante who they are,
but no words come.
Then I know these are the traitors to their calling.
Here the artists who gave up painting, the poets
who were too busy teaching, are sealed
in their silence.
‘Take me away,’ I whisper with all the breath I can raise
to my mouth. ‘Take me away, I am still alive.’
‘Ah, this is the one level of hell where the souls of the living are interred
while their bodies still go through the motions on earth.’
13 Out the other side
The moment stretches to include eternity
like Emily Dickinson moments do.
My heartbeat is an endless dash.
Then time returns to the Inferno and races through dawn to dusk.
Gravity turns inside out, our heads stand where our feet stood,
and our feet are already walking down a hidden road.
Dante moves on and I move on close behind
till we see a seamless hole ahead of us,
and through the hole I see the earth holding the sky
and the sky holding tight to the stars.
‘The Long Road to Teatime’, from The Long Road to Teatime (Auckland University Press, 2000), © Anna Jackson 2000, used by permission of the author.
Recording from the Aotearoa New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 2004.