Four Pieces from Hell by Eric Dean Wilson

Eurydice in Hell

¶It was only hell when you visited. Why couldn’t you understand that? ¶Maybe that’s unfair. I certainly didn’t get it then and thought of you less as a partner than an exit. You, on the other hand, thought you’d lost me out of some singular fault of your own, as if I were a dollar dropped instead of spent. ¶Instead, you built an architecture of suffering. The walls ignited and flowed, merging shelter with foundation. Only then did I have to get out. ¶The uncanny played. Some others were already pulling up their skirts and dancing for you. I gave them no attention. Anyway, you didn’t look either. You wanted to be my hero. You made a plan and walked me there. Not wanting to face myself, I followed. ¶I took to the hem of your mackintosh, and, looking back now, if I ever loved you, it was then, when the climb sewed the thought of you to me—what difficulty does. Each step, evermounting champagne, we were rising, I felt heavier, a burning in my thighs that had already decided for me. So I turned. I turned before you did. I—not you—took me down again, and that reversal—a sound receding rather than staying—turned you (I knew it would), which is why we lost everything. ¶Your ignorance—a wordless music—kept us. It was only in awareness that the flames were doused, the molten set to cool, that I tripped on the way down, that you crafted an alternate narrative with you as actor. ¶And though I know you think you’re above me, I hope this message keeps you from sleep: I’m still down here, I’m alive, and I’m doing fine in the dark without you.

 

Aeneas in Hell

Thrice there he strove to throw his arms about his neck;
thrice the form, vainly clasped, fled from his hands…

¶Three times, I went to hug you, and three times you pushed me away. ¶Some men are cursed with having to watch their fathers die slowly, with having to change their soiled shorts, as they changed their sons’, with having to push applesauce through the closed lips of a mouth from which leapt terrifying punishment, with having to hold gently a hand, the back of which once gave them welts. Some men watch their fathers roil into terrible infancy. And some men know, too, that to forget their fathers in the physical—to leave them to waste in a strange home—is to sustain their force always in the mind. These sons know that a renunciation grants immortality, just as a bomb imprints shadow. The shut memories of hard men return to the world nevertheless. They leave through the gates of ivory, from which nothing substantial comes and through which I must leave now. ¶I never had such luck. I ran out of the city with you on my back. I carried you out of the conflagration. It cost me my wife. When you died suddenly, we devoted days to celebrating you. I knew no other way of moving on but stuck devotion. I’ve wanted always to show you the man you never thought I was. ¶And now, I’ve sailed half-way across the known world, searched the continent for keys, spent sleepless nights crafting the thing to say, bribed the ferryman with everything I had, suffered the blank eyes of my lover who has since forgotten my name, and, finally, walked for days into the very pit of hell accompanied only by a lunatic just to see you one more time—and for this, you flinch. ¶It’s not because you’re dead, father. It’s because I, unlike you, have never stopped living.

 

Satan in Hell

¶Everybody wants riverfront property. The market’s exploding. There are no circles or outer boroughs, that’s how it works. The sad thing is every plot is a casino I own. Every lot is a downtown of perdition. I sell them space that I stole, and they love it, let me tell you. But when the time comes, the towers will fall. ¶These fresh faces arrive in droves, and they get here, and they see all this development—or think they do. The truth is, I hired all these bulldozers and dump trucks to move dirt around to make it look like we’re building. I told the construction people to look busy. What the bulldozers and dump trucks did wasn’t important, I said, so long as they did a lot of it. ¶Really, it’s rot. If you’ve ever flown to Beijing, then taken a nap in the afternoon, you know what I mean. You wake up in half-light, and you’re not sure if the sun’s coming or going—it’s like that. They’re not sure if they’re starting a new life or ending the only one they had. ¶Well, I know. Their checks to me and their wire transfers: each zero is a buffer against the decimal of death. The zeros build, and I never hit the point. Hell is where the gold is. ¶Embryos and idiots, all of them. And anyway, I’m pulling out. Despite what the evil media says, I do believe in climate change. The Phlegethon, my closest advisor told me, is due to burn and flood the city. Once they’re settled, I’ll run. Like I said in my second-favorite book (after Milton’s): Get in, get it done, get it done right, and get out.

 

Dante in Hell

Stop telling me what to think. I have eyes, goddammit.

 

 

***

Eric Dean Wilson is a writer in Brooklyn. His essays and poems have appeared, most recently, in DrDOCTORMusic & LiteratureSeneca Review, and Ninth Letter. He contributes regularly to SCOUT—a poetry review site—and teaches at a number of undergraduate writing programs around the city.

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