The day was now departing. The dark air released the beings
of earth from their labors and I alone stood awake and made ready
for the journey. O memory that suffered it all, help me set down what
it is that I heard and saw.
The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri
My name is dante.
I don't know how to tell this
story. Each time I try, the story eats itself. Mad tail. Its own impulses
run it dry. This happened which led to that happening and then all
the words are in my stomach, swimming an alphabet soup. It was in
my fortieth year, I was running to catch my train - I don't know how
to tell this story but I will try to say what happened to me when
I went down into the earth, below my apartment, below the streets,
under the rock and soil that held up the city I lived in to that other
city at the core of it all, the desperate heart of the city of love.
Grass growing verdant in the junkyard,
my heart at the nested gate, between the outsheds of broken railroad
cars and the heaps of ransacked refrigerators, their doors open and
I was going down into the subway
on my way to work. The smell of human piss was embedded in each step.
There was graffiti all over the walls and it made a shadow copy all
over my face. I could see the people in the station, but they couldn't
see me. I was invisible. Their shapes were blurry but mine was a straight
comb and I cut right through them. I swept through the turnstile for
free and the piss went with me.
There I was in the place dug out
for trains. Their arrival always precluded by a hot wind, a siren,
a ghostly flickering light. The light hit the curved wall of the tracks
which only made it more ugly; that is "come alive" with its
garbage and rats.
I thought about you while I waited
in my darkness, the only place you can live, fetid under my feet,
in the air I breathe down here--the air of the damned--thick and poisonous.
but most of all unseen. How I missed the real of your body--not just
the flesh-touch of it but the sight of its movement---it was like
a great span of wing lifting off in the horizon; it was an eye-lid
shudder that only someone who really watched minutely could see.
I will never be able to tell how
much I miss that which does not live of you. Instead I stood there
shivering as I waited for the train to take me to work. That was the
day I never got there.
I remember I went in the subway
car. The one I always take but it was going way too fast and I figured
I had got on the express by mistake. There wasn't a soul on the train,this
was strange because it was rush hour. Just me and the orange plastic
seats. I sighed with relief when I heard the conductor clear his throat
over the load speaker system. I thought at last I would be told what
direction I was headed and could aright myself at the next stop. Then
with horror it struck me that the voice I was hearing was me and it
was screaming over the microphone in a harsh and bellicose manner:
-My name is dante. I'm a
girlghostwriter and I'm here to write the stories of the dead, in
their own words, the vulgar tongue.
I looked in the mirror that is
in every car so you can see what lies ahead and behind you but there
was no sight of myself, no breath there. I saw only this in the silvery
fog: that I was a ghost writer in the world of the dead, doomed to
write in disappearing ink. And it was, most surely, Hell.
But in the mirror in which
she was invisible, dante the girlghostwriter could see her first boyfriend
ever, her heart and soul of love before it got all screwed up.
-He was beautiful young. He wore
a crimson dress.
He looked at her with such pity
and caressed himself so deliciously that the girl felt lost in his
motions. And as he brushed his hairless breast he said knowingly:
-Love brought you here. Love left
you here. Love put these words in your mouth, these dead stars in
your eyes. Love, do you remember me?
"Yes," dante the girl said
softly to the boy in the mirror who refused to show her face. "I do
remember you. Beatrice. Beautiful. Young. You wore a crimson dress.
You never noticed me. I loved you. You're dead."
"And so are you, dante," answered
the boy, giggling a little.
"At least as dead as you can be,
given your emotions which never ran too deep."
"But if I am dead," asked the
girl, "then what is all this before me?" she motioned to the orange
subway seats and the fake grass floor and the advertisements all over
the train ceiling. "Where oh where am I?"
-Why dante, where would a girl
like you like to be?
-Er-Hell? She ventured.
At that very moment, dear Reader,
the whole world of hell in all its delights opened up before me.
the girlghostwriter lying down beneath the clear sky of advertisements
for plastic surgeons, immigration lawyers, and employment agencies
began the rote of her familiar tale:
"Midway through my life's journey,
I found myself in a dark wood for the straight way was lost to me.
I cannot really say how I entered the wood, I was very tired when
I gave up the path. But when I reached the bottom of the hill,
there at the end of the valley that had caused me so much pain, I
looked up and saw the sun."
-He was there obscuring the sun,
lying on the grass painting his nails and smiling at each one as it
sucked in the red polish. He didn't look up but he spoke to me as
if I were reflected in those sweet moons that crested each finger
Whom the girl loved all
her life, who never knew she existed, who died not caring she existed.
Leaving dante to a long, miserable, and lonely life. An exile from
life. This made her a natural chronicler of hell.
-invisible. see-through. transparent
to the one I love,
thrown out of my country,
exiled in absentia, on pain of death.
Never to go home again, never
to live anywhere again. Not even as a memory.
"Grief, you know," confided the
girlghostwriter to anything that would listen, "grief is a map
you can chart your heart and soul on. Here is where he never looked
at me, here is where he kissed another, here is where he died without
my name on his lips--Beatrice."
"My friend who is not the friend
of fortune," whispered Beatrice, his arms (which had just begun to
sweetly muscle) tenderly entwined around the girlghostwriter's waist,
"has been eaten up by fear. But Love sent Reson-Virgil the worm, the
mouth of reason, to eat her holy heart out--to teach the girl how
she might live without love, that is--how she might live dead."
He was a giant worm, his body
an iridescent bronze slither but he walked upright like a man and
he took the girl dante by the hand. The sky turned black and the stars
came out and glittered like broken glass as they went forth. The first
thing she noticed as she looked imploringly up at his face was that
he had no eyes. He spoke to the girl with a voice that nestled in
her heart, a voice that reminded her of love before it was pain.
-If you want to get past the beasts
that prey, you had better go another way. Follow me, dante. Let me
be your eyes in the dirt; let me eat a hole through your heart that
will become your new eyes and with it you will see hell, purgatory
In the muscular coils of his dark
body the giant worm held what the girl dante perceived was a subway
map of hell.
"Express or local?" she asked
of her guide.
"Local," he replied, "its more
So the girl dante the ghost writer
followed the giant worm, the mouth of reason, into a hole in the ground.
And thus it was that they descended into the blind world.
-Twas a gray, filthy place where
one stumbled in the dingy light, the concrete floor a sea of cigarette
butts, the iron tracks squirming with rats, and the broken down
vehicles that whistled through its hellish tunnel covered with indecipherable
graffiti. To the girl it looked just like the beat up subway in her
city but the stops on the station map were different, very different.
The girl dante walked through
the valley of death with her heaven-sent guide, Virgil the worm, the
mouth of reason whose mission it was on pain of love to eat her holy
heart out. And while she was walking here and now, she could see herself
sitting hunched over 'back then' in the Middle Ages--a middle-aged
monk man illuminating a divine comedy of humanity. Look! Said
Virgil to his charge--Now he is scripting the letter E.
Then the monk scribe of
the Middle Ages looked knowingly at the girlghostwriter and pointed
to his illuminated circles, where a gold-leafed version of herself
lives in passionless vellum. The girl dante points to herself, the
scribe; her tears bleed over the elaborated page and the letter where
she is trapped comes alive.
-E can only mean one thing said
the girl as she held her magnifying glass up to the gorgeous letter-
"Ah, exile," continued Virgil
nostalgically. "To be cut off from country or home by free choice
or force. To be absent from country or home by free choice or force.
To be separated from the realm of human intercourse, to be made alien
from love, honor, contact of the most tenuous sort with the familiar,
the known, the trusted, the believed or the beloved by free will or
force. To be unable to return to country or home or love. To be unable
to ever know again what country or home or love means."
Sure... obviously, replied the
girl who was not a little irritated, Why would such as me even be
on this trip if I had anywhere else to go? My home is this elaborated
letter--E--for exile. I sleep in its shade, raid its garbage cans
at night. I eat my pride and I know I'm supposed to feel better.
So the girl dante tried
not to think of home. The thought of home made her sick--home/sick.
-But sometimes home thinks of
me. It asks me: Where have you been? Why don't you write or call?
Where are you going? And for how long?
The girl dante pointed to the
illumination of the scribe who is herself, who is in fact the very
home that is sick of her and she cried. Her tears bleed over the elaborated
pages of the circles of hell and they come alive.
"Let me show you my circles,"
said the scribe who was wandering in the painted words to the girl
who was wandering in nowhere. "A circle is perfect--a space with no
way in and no way out. You just go round and round and round."
The girl dante who was drifting
in nowhere because she's in exile and thinks she's dead, wanted to
go to the Middle Ages. She was sure that she was this wandering
scribe, this middle aged monk-man in a world of
miracles, in which the miraculous is more real than the real. She
was headed back there when she got lost and became a road kill on
the map of love.
And now, the girl dante stepped
into the Middle Ages: "It's like an ocean-she marveled, the way you
test it first, step by step, until the only thing left is to freeze
or jump in." As she entered the illumination of the scribe she
thinks she is, she saw that he was painting the circles
of hell and that they were named, just like the destinations on her
subway map--the Circle of Gluttony, the Ring of Treachery, the Terrace
of Cowardly Fear. These circles catalogued every bad doing,
every horrid thought, every evil coincidence known to man. The girl
dante is sure that here she will find love.
I thought about you in the darkness.
I could smell your forearms where the muscle clenched to grab me and
hold on until I was too confused for anything but the belief of your
"Wait a minute," she screamed,
digging out her flashlight. "Time to get our bearings. The way I see
it, I'm still in a dark wood. My guide Virgil the worm, the
mouth of reason is beside me. We're reading our map to hell
so we can figure out which way to go....Now, if the main objective
in visiting hell is to get out of it and thereby escape the
exile that brought you to it, this means taking the road that
leads to home which is, as everyone knows, where the heart is, which
is being eaten away so that one can survive the journey through. Where
then, if the heart is gone, does the traveler end up?"
Before she had time to consider
this question however, she saw in the dark tunnel that was her new
home a neon sign that blinked and grinningly announced: The Tourist
Attractions Of The Circles Of Hell.
The Tourist Attractions Of The
Circles Of Hell
misers and profligates
the angry and the sullen
the violent against others
the violent against themselves
the violent against God and Nature
sowers of discord
It could take a lifetime to see
it all, said Virgil, most excited to be in this fascinating place.
But the girl dante, frozen
stiff by anguished memory, wept:
There was a girl I knew
once. She was beautiful, young. She wore a crimson dress...I loved
her. She's dead.
back, it was the moment, dear Reader, that I fell from any grace of
myself. I knew then that this place I had come down to below the streets
of my city would never let me go. That whether I stayed or left, it
would pound in my blood and draw pictures before my eyes without respite.
That I belonged to it and lived on its stories as surely as
those in the world above live on air. That its ghost stories were
indeed my breath, their journeys were my very air, their haunted characters
my lungs. That I needed this place of Hell to live at all since I
was, I now understood, a creature of the dead, both here and
there, both dead and alive if I was to live anymore at all.
I remember wavering on that precipice for an overly long time, wondering
how I should proceed, if I should turn back, stay where I was or alas,
go forward. But my mind was made up for me.
Come on, said her guide the worm
mouth of reason, giving her a firm push,. You can't stay in Limbo
Time to sink or swim added the
boy Beatrice brightly. And with that, they began the Crossing Of The
River Acheron To Hell's Gate.
Of The River Acheron To Hell's Gate
of black, bottomless water was everywhere upon us and the gasping
rant of emphysymic breathing was so loud in this heavenless
sky that it made speech impossible while we heard the bellow of "Welcome
home, damned souls" as the red eyed glower of the boatman Charon drew
his victims aboard. We followed the thousands traveling over
the dark waters. Even before we had reached the other shore, new hordes
stood ready on the bank to make the regrettable journey in which their
own obsessions urge them on, turning their fear into desire--the
desire to go to hell.
So it was that the worm,
the girl, and the boy crossed into the land of Hell. Here sighs and
screams, cries and lamentations resonated against the starless sky.
"Here," said the girl's sage guide, "you must leave behind all fear,
all hesitation, or else the pilgrim will not survive."
Then a wind cracked through the
tear-drenched earth, a wind that rose with a blood-red light, a light
that overwhelmed all the girlghostwriter's senses, and she fell
like a man struck dead.
When the girl dante awoke,
the subway stop which appeared above her said 'Lust' and seemed to
be written in blood and the doors stayed open until reluctantly she
ventured out into this land. There she saw in a dark clearing, a man
and a woman tightly entwined and glued to a television set upon which
they were watching a soap opera in Italian, a language the girl dante
could not understand. She could hear the sounds of deep kisses and
the magnified filmic sighs of close up lovers, but the girl couldn't
tell if the sounds were coming from the television or the two
people watching it. Suddenly the lovers in the soap opera stepped
out of the television set and began to chase each other. A bitter
wind blew and the girl dante could hardly keep herself on the ground.
She heard them screaming to each other as they raced in a circle
of unstoppable frenzy, trying to touch, trying not to touch, trying
to escape, chasing and never catching each other, over and over in
the endless wind. She heard them howling at each other:
--Why are we in hell for loving?
--What kind of loving is hell?
--How can loving be hell?
--Why won't the wind stop?
--Why when I touch you am I not
--Where has the earth gone?
--Where has comfort gone?
--Why won't the wind stop?
Over and over they chased one
another and screamed these words until suddenly they climbed back
into the television set and the female of the couple began to speak:
--Once there were these two people-me
and my brother in law actually-we had a lot of time alone since my
husband, the King, was usually out making war. It was really innocent
the way it all happened. We were reading a book together-- the romance
of Guinevere and Lancelot. Our hands touched as we traced the
words with our fingers so as not to lose our place-
And the man in the set grabbed
her and continued:
--Our hands touched and suddenly
our lips and after that all our reading was each other's bodies and
we couldn't stop even when we heard him coming-we couldn't stop even
when we felt his sword pierce one and then the other's heart-.
"They couldn't stop," laughed
Beatrice, who turned off the TV and watched with satisfaction as the
lovers vanished into the blankness. "They couldn't stop even when
their hearts were skewered together like a shish kabob. Ah, Love that
can suddenly seize the tender heart. Love that releases no loved
one from loving. Love that led these two to one death. Love, the hurricane
"This hurricane of hell never
stops," interjected Virgil the worm, the mouth of reason, as he pulled
out from the folds of his voluptuous body a meteorological map
in the shape of a frayed heart. He pointed to its ripped up ventricles.
-Look--The wind whips them here,
whips them there. There's no hope of rest nor respite from suffering.-This
is the long range forecast-it is not subject to change.
But the girl ghost writer
-I have some real problems with
the moral of this story I'm driven to ghost write, she complained.
Why it doesn't seem like hell at all, the way I see it--obsessive
love is the greatest love-My dead Beatrice whom I never even kissed,
the girl at the altar in the crimson dress, with the cold lips, who
never raised his eyes in greeting, who never said "Hello, how are
you, today?" And I feel-I feel jealous of Paolo and Francesca, those
two souls lost in the perpetual hunger of their love.
"dante the girl is weeping,"
announced Beatrice, clucking her tongue, "from Virgil the worm, the
mouth of reason, who is eating her heart out with reason so called.
Objectivity is an algebraic thing--symbols of abstraction when
unapplied to the living reality. But she wants...the heart wants...."
"Listen to me, dante girl," urged
the worm. "Follow how I see. Then you'll stop crying."
And with that he spit a black
stream of bile upon the lovers. And the girl dante broke into uncontrollable
tears . But she couldn't help thinking: "Why am I crying when I want
to be spitting?"
And Beatrice, that body and soul
of love, came up behind her, his member hard against her back and
he blew on the nape of her neck, whispering: "Remember a girl you
knew once. She wore a crimson dress. You loved her-"
The girl dante pushed this apparition
away and yelled at the top of her lungs: "She's dead!"
"Can you fuck the love out of
a body?" wondered the girlghostwriter trying to touch her see-through
self. "Can you love so hard that the atoms of flesh break down and
you disappear into each other in such minute particles that you are
neither girl nor boy but both? Can you fuck yourself out of love and
into another universe as if you had passed through a black hole?"
And there on the other side, the girl thought hopefully, you could
be a hermaphrodite of feeling--both love and hate.
"From lust we descend to
gluttony," her guide intervened, dragging her down from the leaning
tower of her self absorption. "Its a natural progression from the
place where you can never get enough to the circle where you're
They saw before them hordes of
monstrous creatures dining on human hearts, tossing them up in the
air like flapjacks. In the middle of this party sat the three-headed
dog Cereberus, his three throats growling, his three maws foaming,
his fat eyes red as blood, his enormous belly bulging as he tears
the hearts up, one by one.
I love to eat, he yelled ecstatically,
I love to eat, I love to eat, love to chew, consume bite grind inhale
slurp masticate tear gulp devour.
And the girl dante too began to
stuff her mouth with hearts.
. "Now dante," Beatrice admonished
as she tore half an aorta from her loved one's orifice-"you know for
us girls it is a sin to eat. That the holier the girl the more starving.
Abstinence will help you write the cautionary tale of the gluttonous,
in the glory of your famished anonymity-"The Horror Story of the Hungry
But the girl dante could barely
hear her love as the beast with the three mouths was devouring her
along with everything else he could grab onto and all that was
filling her ears was his phlegm-filled voice growling: more more more
more more more more.
"Sometimes I know I do not exist,"
admitted the girl dante as she began to disappear into the maw of
Gluttony. "That I am a ghost and that these dead souls are the living.
That's why everyone thinks I'm some Italian guy from the Middle Ages.
I have made myself into an Italian guy from the Middle Ages and I
have made everybody believe it so I won't exist because if I do exist
with my loud mouth that is not the mouth of the worm Virgil, the voice
of reason, it is clear that one of those guys will kill me which
I do not want--because I know how you can be tortured to death
by the dead. I'd rather be dead to begin with."
"Oh, be reasonable," pronounced
her guide as he dragged her out of the mouth of gluttony.
"Look, dante," he told her
sharply-"Forget all this philosophizing. Just concentrate on this:
Figuring out how to escape is the key down here. Escape from every
home, each love, all promises. Escape is the challenge of the consumer
in the infernal shopping mall. To emerge a hero is to return home
empty handed. It's true--no matter what they say or what the sales,
do not buy any of it."
And what prescient advice it was
for they had arrived in the vicious circle of Waste And Avarice.
Waste And Avarice
*Crowds pressed on every
side of them. With their chests they pushed the giant grinding wheels
and slammed against each other, screaming "Why do you waste? Why do
"For all eternity they'll come
to blows," said the guide with a great yawn as he stretched his neck
out to point at the doomed, "those with their fists clenched tight,
those squandering their silver and gold....excess had robbed them
both of this sweet world." Virgil told all this to his trembling charge
over the thunderous clashing of the hellish wheels of commerce,
"My name is dante,"
the girl screamed out. "I'm telling you this again because while I
know that my words are disappearing ink, I think maybe my voice is
disappearing, too. That you will forget who I am or never know who
I am or think I'm really someone other than I am while I keep
fading away. The wasteful and the avaricious, tied together forever
here, have hired me to ghost write their stories. But they criticize
my style, my ideas; they tell me I am writing in a dead language that
no one ever reads. Well, what the hell do they expect?"
"dante girl," chided Virgil,
"listen and you shall understand." And he guided her over to two souls
rapt in earnest conversation.
-What shall we do today?
-Shall we go to Bergdorfs, shall
we go to Bloomingdales? I know you don't like Sax.
-Don't waste your dime on that
beggar in the street--if you put your money in his hand you'll get
a life-threatening disease. He should know it's better to give
than to receive.
And with that the two souls joined
hands and entered the Mall.
Meanwhile, another soul spoke
earnestly of his dreams:
--A vintage Jaguar convertible
with red leather seats, a diamond ankle bracelet, my own private island
in Fiji, A Louis Vitton carrying case for my cat, dinner reservations
forever at the restaurant at the top of the Tour Eiffel. Consuming
makes me a fully participatory member of the global community. Soul
for sale? You bet! he cried out while the rest of the souls of this
circle cheered and applauded.
But all the girl dante could think
about was a catalog of unmentionable sins which she muttered as she
twirled round the circle herein: states of sin which seemed to her
frail mind to be growing:
the sin of poverty
the sin of homelessness
the sin of needing help
the sin of asking for it
the sin of helplessness
the sin of not having it
the sin of wanting too
the sin of being too old
the sin of being a liberal
the sin of not being tough
the sin of idealism
the sin of loving too much.
about love a lot, here in hell," said Beatrice-"love of the body,
love of the mind, love of money love of poverty love of greed love
of love. We think about these things all the time. love love love.
We watch the creatures suffer in their love, too much, too little,
wrong headed, dizzy, perverse. We would sympathize with them
if we had any heart left with which to feel-"
"But we do not my dear," interrupted
the worm mouth of reason. "We have ascended to tough love."
And as her two friends spoke
and conspired, dante the girlghostwriter announced triumphantly:
I knew a girl once, I loved her,
she barely noticed me, the little shit. I'm glad she's dead.
Then the girl sighed deeply and
added: But how horrible it is not to exist for the one you live for.
Virgil grabbed her by the
waist and shouted: Eat your heart out, baby! Yeah! Eat your heart
out. Eat your heart out!
And so it was that the girl and
the worm fell to the ground of hell and rolling over and over he
fucked her dry while hissing in her ear: eat your heart out baby eat
your heart out baby eat your eat your eat your. Yes, yes, yes the
girl ghostwriter screamed as her heart shrank to the size of
a nut in the final waves of her desire. When the girl awoke from her
torpor, there appeared before her the City of Dis, a metropolis of
burnt and broken dreams, of walls shattered, of illuminations erased,
of urban beauties mutilated, it existed as a negative of a city--elaborate
and bombed out; ultra modern and medieval, real yet impossible to
I wanted to run back to my old city now where I simply took a train
and went to a job where no one noticed me unless I made a mistake.
Where no one cared if I lived or died where no one needed me to be
their taleteller. I yearned for my city's rush of people, running
into each other, each one on his way to somewhere else, each one wanting
the particle of space that someone else was inhabiting, each one thinking
only of the world that is himself. I wanted that city back, the one
where love was so far gone it would never haunt you. The city where
love lived forgotten and buried and so it doesn't hurt anymore. But
I couldn't find my way back there now. And since I feared to stay
where I was, I went forward into Dis.
was that they arrived inside the deep cut trenches that are the moats
of this despondent land. And the girl dante found herself teetering
upon the verge of an abyss, a melancholy valley of unending tears.
At this point in their journey,
she and the worm of reason Virgil were sick to death of hell. Every
sinner wanted to confess his or her story like it's for the
cover of People magazine. The circles of wrath, vengeance,
usury, treachery--all their inhabitants had one thing in common--they
want to tell all.
Ugolino, a father who ate his
kids, insisted dante put in all the grisly details. "I did a
real bad thing, I know," he confessed earnestly-but I'm a new
man after this experience. I used to care only about my career. Now
I'm a devoted family man. My story will vindicate me, if you write
"Poor dante," moaned Beatrice,
who had suddenly reappeared lounging on one of the parapets, his long
hair brushed to a glistening glower. "No one in hell is as much in
hell as this girl who's supposed to tell everybody else's story while
she, herself, is doomed to invisibility. No one in hell is as much
in hell as the girl dante whose heart is scheduled to disappear, bit
by bit as the worm of reason feeds."
What do the invisible smell
like? I can tell you now. They stink of unfulfilled desire-of want
that has never come to fruition. Of change that is fiercer than anything
want could give in to. Of so much hunger that the juices there to
break it down burn the empty mouth.
dante confessed, running to her adolescent love, "there are times
I just can't take it anymore--the foreordained anonymity of the ghost
writing life. There are times when I lose the will to transcribe--to
speak the questions, to record the answers of the damned. At such
times my mouth is wide open but not a sound comes out--and in
my breath as it hits the infernal frozen air--I see my scribe in his
illumination, hunched over, all alone and he's writing: "Murder?
theft? over-eating? incest? After awhile, what's the difference?"
After awhile, in the universal equation of time and relativity, they're
all the same thing."
-Brush my hair, would you? replied
Love laughing. "Look my dear, circle after circle--we're all creatures
of habit," Beatrice soothed the tormented soul of her ghostwriter,
"and the habits of the circles of hell can make you feel at home girl,
just try it on for size."
So dante took Beatrice's sage
advice. She discovered in no time that she could indeed adapt to every
evil the circles of hell hold. None of it looked so bad, foreign or
boring anymore. The girl was so absorbed in watching all the evil
and perversity that she couldn't see she was suddenly stuck in the
mud or that the city of Dis was impenetrable, that the way it
stood-she couldn't even get over the river Styx.
"Learn to crawl," advised the
worm pushing her down, "learn to crawl. On your belly and knees and
tongue learn to wriggle through hell's walls."
And so the girl learned to swim
through the mud and crawl through the rocks of hell. Sometimes she
would stop to build herself a model of the City of Revelation:
the garbage and discarded objects I found along my path and therewith
built my city. And as I made this place, I was struck by the sensation
that upon every side, the steep and filthy hole trembled so that I
thought the universe felt love.
Virgil the worm mouth of reason wrapped himself around my creation,
sniffing it as if to find the tasty prey within. He squeezed it slowly
with his hot, strong body, and pointed somewhat breathlessly to its
landscape. Look girl he said: "Here we have treachery--see how crooked,
just like a medieval street. Here's the public works of grand theft
and the cafes of petty larceny, the neighborhoods of fraud simple
and fraud compound, the public squares of greed, the bus stops of
lust. And here, the great waterway of civilized life--the boiling
river of blood where every person who has done violence to another
is drinking...and burning up.
And it was so, for here we had
arrived in the gigantic Circle of Violence. All around us souls with
guns, knives, clubs, and bombs were screeching their vows
destroy bad mouth blow
up burn scourge rip off run over gas knife break crush torture brainwash
brain dead, erase. . . erase...erase.
Virgil whispered to the girl with
great satisfaction: "The violence of the tyrant is the most brutal
when he makes sure that not only are his victims dead but any memory
of them is erased. So completely erased, that even the most experienced
ghost writer can't dig it up."
Suddenly all around the
girl, hellions were screaming at her:
WHAT'S THAT YOU SAID. I DIDN'T
HEAR YOU. I DON'T GET IT. PROVE IT. YOU'VE GOT TO PROVE IT TO ME TO
ME OR WHY SHOULD I BUY IT? SPEAK UP. DON'T BE COY. IF YOU DON'T PROVE
IT, YOU ARE NOTHING. IT NEVER HAPPENED. IT DOESN'T EXIST. ANYHOW,
YOUR VOICE--IT'S TOO SOFT. YOU DON'T EVEN EXIST.
And the girl felt she could
answer nothing to this. Her voice was choked in the smoke of fear
and fury. She could only whisper to herself in her heart where no
one would hear her:
-The girl dante, the ghost writer,
is in hell because she is an (unwilling) exile from the love of man-kind.
The girl dante, the ghost, is in hell, because she is unable to operate
in the community of man-kind-I even has grave sinner thoughts that
such a thing as mankind doesn't exist. The worm Virgil the mouth of
hell-reason says I must prove myself now: "Prove yourself," says he,
"if you prove yourself to me you'll be a hero." But nothing I prove
is ever enough. Everything I ghost write falls through the cracks--the
fissures of hell that swallow all true things and say they aren't
loud enough, aren't logical enough, aren't important enough, aren't
famous enough, aren't enough enough. The girl dante believes in hell,
that she'll never believe in herself again-What for, if I can't prove
So the girl dante, the ghost writer,
tried to find her proof in the moats and ditches of violence. She's
alone in the seventh circle, in the burnt out City of Dis. There are
no more alphabetical bestiaries, no more allegorical demons in her
way, only a mutilated forest to trip her up--an arboretum of suicides.
And so it was that the three found
themselves amidst the charred and mutilated carcasses of trees
upon which the suicides had hung themselves, and these stumps were
intoning in a low, hoarse unison:
*no green leaves in the
forest, only black-
no trees straight and smooth,
only knotted and gnarled-
no fruits here, just briars
Looking back it was here that
I believed I would never again return to the world of the living,
that I would never again see the colors of earth, clear blue, bright
green, soft yellow. At this point in my journey I was sure that my
world would forever be this dark place with these tormented
creatures who tortured me to tell their stories, to release them from
the hell from which I myself by virtue of my talent as a ghostwriter
would never again be able to leave. Naturally, I rescued myself from
such despair with thoughts of love. I can touch you here, Love
that never was, love that was only my escape from what was, love that
I needed so much, love that had no need at all for me. Love that has
spent my life disappearing.
girl dante thinks she can die for love," noticed Beatrice. "She's
dead already, poor thing. Her worm-eaten heart, her cynical turn of
mind. She's choked herself on bitterness and despair, on the words
'if only', on the dream 'what might have been', on the shards that
are left of her grieving heart."
dante took out her pocket
knife and opened it up. She liked how the blade shone a fiery orange
in the hellish light. She liked the shining it spat back at her; she
loved it. So she took the blade to the skin of her right forearm and
up and down upon it, she began to carve beauteous pictures, elaborate
letters, a host of illuminations in the paint of her body that is
blood. Said the girl as she cut:
-The girl dante the ghost writer
is dead in hell, double dead again. The girl dante has killed herself
many many times but somehow still she isn't dead. But she's a ghost
anyhow which is why she wants to be as dead as she feels.
She carves deeper, moving slowly
down to the bracelet of her delicate wrist.
I remember a girl I knew once.
She was beautiful young
Her arm now drenched in
She wore a crimson dress-
Her scribe in the Middle
Ages walked up and down the scriptorium of the dead, and as he walked
he was thinking: This pacing is like tracing words on paper. Endless
as air his shuffle, carving out the illuminations from the dust, like
Thought is the true exile as it
wanders from place to place, thrown out of one brain only to roost
in another, he thought as he paced his cell seven hundred years and
one tiny a or the or of away from the girlghostwriter..
dante crawled in the footsteps
of the medieval scribe she saw illuminating in her memory like a broken
record. But he didn't provide any relief for all he can do is draw
the ins and outs of a calligraphic hell, a maze of hope and memory.
"Look how effortlessly he walks
through the blackness that make up his letters," the girl marveled-"l
for love, c for charity, f for forgiveness, h humility. This is the
language of hell. Because."
She watched silently as he squeezed
himself through the white fire and the black night, the true eye of
the needle. She knew it was only in that emaciated corridor
that the scribe alone could read the Book of Life in Hell. "He can
squeeze through on his damned words. He can-He can," she wept.
"Things fall to the floor and I feel broken. I see a tree being trimmed
and it's my own limbs being amputated. My tears are eating away my
body but I can't stop them. 'Hang on' is an expression I've heard
too much to believe it has an end."
"But it does have an end," dear
girl, said her gentle guide, "or at least a new beginning. Look we
have passed through the circle of suicides, and we rest now at the
stop of The Circle Of The Violent Against God.
Berc is a novelist, playwright, translator and teacher of creative
writing. Berc's recent novel, The Shape of Wilderness, was published
by Coffee House Press The New York Times called it "a vividly imagined
parable...a strange and potent book...a fantastical world of unusual
sensuality and invention".
include a McKnight Writing Fellowship, Rockefeller/Bellagio Fellowship,
NEA Opera/Music librettist fellowship, an Outer Critics Circle nomination
for best off-Broadway play and two Lila Wallace/Readers Digest grants.
and essays on theatre have been published by Performing Arts Journal,
Johns Hopkins Press, Yale Theater Magazine, The Drama Review, among
other publications and presses. Her plays and adaptations have been
performed at CSC Repertory in New York, Yale Repertory, The American
Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, American Repertory Theatre
at Harvard, St. Louis Repertory, and the Odyssey Theatre. In Europe,
her work has been seen at the Festival d'Avignon, Festival d'Autumn,
Bieteff Festival, Edinburgh Festival and the Riverside Theatre in
with Alejandro Fogel for writers and artists of all genres, "The Creativity
Workshop: writing, drawing, and story telling as personal memoir"
has been taught in Italy, Turkey, Argentina, Hungary, Australia, Singapore
and the US.