Canto 3 is the third canto in the sequence of the English Cantos, the first two of which are available to read on the SCP website. James Sale is attempting in this poem to emulate Dante, and this begins, initially, by descending into a modern day hell. Whilst the poem mythologises as it progresses, the events and people it depicts are based on real situations and real people that James has encountered or experienced. It is James' firm conviction that in order to go up, first we must go down. And now, if truth be told, I’d been unmanned: My mother not able to recognise Her son, or love him, except what she shammed. The eerie passageway, so to my eyes, Had some volume control – turned down a notch Or two, but bass up louder – pitched red hues Infesting air, and every breath would catch Their resonance of kin. Imagine, then, Some umbilical cord drawn through a crotch, Constricted tight, unbreakable at both ends, And saturated through its skin with blood No scissors, scalpel, knife could cut to mend. ‘Hold me,’ I wheezed to him beside me, good And still my inspiration. As he did The air came back, but worsening my mood: My soul in living now wanted to hide The shame of realising I could not Love her (whom instinct, not soon denied) Deemed ‘mother’. Unnatural, then, or what? Ingrate, then, after all she’d done for me? I, too, deserved her hell or deeper lot. I was her son, perverse epitome, Disfigured by all the guilt I held – Which guilt burning like acid constantly. Though dead seven hundred years, his arm I felt, And wisdom from a deep life-giving spring, Which balm calmed, countered all her acid spilt So long ago – a sense of hope he’d bring, Despite the depth to which my mother fell, Despite her folly and endless feigning. ‘This modern world’, he grimaced, ‘truth to tell, Is not the same as Florence was back then; It’s different, though stamped and marked as hell. He paused, as if to weigh what that might mean. ‘We knew what evil was, and how it caught Unwary souls; but here … you think you’re clean, As if deleting wrong were done by thought, As if enough opinions made wrong right, As if my way cancelled truly we ought …’ He stopped. The strain of evil was not light. How better to stay in God’s heaven, free? But now upfront, cries punctuating night, We seemed on a ramp sloping listlessly Down. ‘Where is this place?’ I shuddered; could smell Bandages, blood, and splashed liberally Some anti-septic wash which sought to quell Or mask the stench pervading. Darkness, too, Oppressed, diffused a red and putrid feel. But sounds now, wailings, louder, I knew What they were and that induced fresh dread. ‘Yes,’ Dante said. ‘Your old friend waits for you.’ ‘But these are children’s cries I hear ahead – How could children be in a place like this?’ But before his answer formed, we stopped dead: Ward Four. A narrow arch, brickwork a-mess, And we stooping to enter its thin space. Indeed, the more in, so it seemed the less There was. Until, no room at all, a face, Gaunt, bone-like, white peered through the red-rinsed dark. ‘Hi James,’ he said, emotionless and waste. ‘I’d knew you’d find me; knew you’d like my work.’ What work? I thought. Then heard some sullen sobs: The walls themselves had faces in, each hurt – Each face half-formed, deformed, and like a yob’s Made so through lack of love and fatherhood, But each one spoke, as one collective, mob; Each one deprived of anything called good, So each one cried and tried to finger-point, But at what exactly my friend understood And took some pleasure from, as every joint In them strained to exit from their flat lives. He was their monarch, reigning, they his runts. ‘Kip.’ I knew him well. But now? How time flies And changes. ‘What’s done?’ I queried. ‘What’s here?’ He swallowed, Adam’s apple swollen, tied And hard, as if words were something to fear. Once, long before, he’d been my student, first, Fluent in music, words, in meaning clear; But what had seemed so promising, now had burst: Youth’s garnish stripped, removed, instead a husk Remained, a shell suggesting what he’d lost. So he began and justified his lust. ‘Donations, James,’ that’s what this is about. ‘I’m contributing; I’m someone they trust.’ ‘That’s good, Kip,’ I said, hesitant, ‘no doubt.’ But what was it, despite fair-seeming words, Made wincing within, chilling cold without? I felt the good hand on my shoulder. He’d heard, And understood intuitively. His grip Though, for one so long dead, was over-hard. Something appalled my guide, not some small blip, But an enormity these yelping walls Portrayed. ‘After,’ Kip said, ‘curry and chips!’ ‘After what, Kip?’ I pressed. ‘I take their calls – They need me, and the state has let them down. We meet at a pub. I use a cubicle. I’m reasonable, only 20 pounds; It pays for travel and for grub.’ He seemed Pleased, while I’m perplexed. ‘Call it a loan, If you prefer; I give them what they’ve dreamed Of.’ As he paused, shell-shocked I realised What he meant: the walled faces’ contours screamed Paternity – his, gotten otherwise Than through the natural join of woman, man; Children unknowing him, marked with his eyes, Beget in a toilet, using his hand, And passing on donations in a bag For pennies and his vain, immortal brand. How now he swelled with pride: not quite a shag, But still he had achieved? To be a god – Create life, more than others, so he bragged, At least a brace, a score of kids – all odd – But his whom lesbian mothers wanted most, So much, they’d been no screening of his blood. ‘Look!’ he said, pointing, determined to boast: ‘This one is mine.’ A figure squirmed, outlined Smooth on the wall, like in some Facebook post, Where Kip tracked them, and kept hoping for signs: Their mothers careless now of him, but not Their kids – his DNA built their designs, Their destinies: all they might have been – but - Constrained to wonder, look and never catch Their Pan-like father, his repeating shots Creating replicas, not one a patch On his original. As was. So sad To see them straining now. And Kip to watch And think this living; clearly all was mad, And he reduced to such desperate straits: His flesh itself his sickening source of trade, Yet for so little recompense, small rate. I looked him in the face, but as I did Hoping I could, by God’s grace, communicate, Tell him to quit, so the space, like some grid, Contracted; the outlines more defined, squealed Like pigs forced into a pen they’d have fled Had they the sense their existence concealed, Fatherless and lost. We stooped, we had to then, As Kip, gaunter still, blocked my speech, and railed. ‘I’m helping, giving my best, these women Need me. No lectures, no sermons, from you Or Him, please!’ ‘But Kip,’ I said, ‘these children, Abandoned so, they want, at least, to know, And if they don’t’ - and here words failed within, For some higher force wrenched my sense in tow To His purpose – to prophesy, for shining Invisible beside us now, Dante saw What startled - stopping the yelping, whining; As if they too, just once, could see the core Of what was there: Apollo, golden youth, Arrow now drawn from his limitless store, Bow bent in dread menace at poor Kip’s mouth, Hanging in front open, as if it sensed Some dire presence but not perceived its truth. ‘You will,’ I said, and as I did I blanched, So did the god run through me till my extremes Lacked blood, and in my heart all avalanched In frozen turmoil, ‘never reach your dreams: One of these whom you have begot, toyed with, Will seek you out, find you, and be the worm Undoing the fabric, the very stuff Of all you’ve built your life upon – be sure – Apollo himself will plague you enough Till even you, Kip, will cry out, No more. These ants, gotten by you, will be your itch.’ He would have smirked, but clumsy, like a paw, Involuntarily, he began to scratch His face, and then his back, until his frame Seemed raw, exposed, and each part now a-twitch. He’d bred in deed to multiply his name But each scratch skinned him further, till he was More skeletal, more red, yet not with shame. As calculating what to say, he paused – Our presence disruptive, not in control – His voice an exhalation like a hiss. ‘I know you knew me when I went to school So long ago – teacher – but you don’t know How much I played my teachers all for fools. None understood I had my way to go. None got my beauty, got what I portrayed, Or saw the hidden depths my work could show. None saw my heart-ache, none my fears allayed; None, nobody, not One Himself got it; And now, because of that, I’ve fully paid My dues and I reject Him and His shit; For I create and what invalidates? See, see, yourself, around you, it all fits, The cosmos mine and all is Kip’s to take!’ His red, raw skin - and now his eyes burned red, A-flame with energy defying fate. But even as his words in molten shreds Oozed out from his mouth, so the Ward shook In one dire quake, and Kip spun round in dread: For there was one at whom he could not look, And she, severe now in her odd uniform, Appeared through an opening the quake had struck And strode towards him; and he, like some worm, Twisted agonised against the flat screen – One face yelped, ‘Dad’, surprised at Kip’s return, Demanding acknowledgement, where he’d been; But Kip could only groan, as one might do Who had to take the final medicine: ‘Here you are,’ the harpy seizing him cooed With menace immeasurable. ‘Remember me? You raped me Kip, but I am not your food – You owe me, and you owe my family.’ With that her talon-like grip round his neck Pierced skin, and Kip shrieked, struggled, tried to flee. ‘You owe me!’ And her grip tightened, sought to break All Kip’s resistance. How his blood poured out – The floor, the screen, himself plastered in streaks – And we jumped back avoiding bubbling clots Of gore that threatened to engulf us. Then, My guide to me, almost having to shout Above the din, ‘If not now to go, when? See the way the harpy forged in? That’s our path Out, down to all the futile grief of man.’ I knew at once to act; he spoke the truth. Whilst Kip screamed bleeding, harpy carving pounds Of flesh out of him in her bloody bath, We dashed where the hollow opened, and round Its corner till we were beyond that sound. James Sale, FRSA is a leading expert on motivation, and the creator and licensor of Motivational Maps worldwide. James has been writing poetry for over 40 years and has seven collections of poems published, including most recently, Inside the Whale, his metaphor for being in hospital and surviving cancer, which afflicted him in 2011. He can be found at www.jamessale.co.uk and contacted at james@motivational maps.com. He is the winner of First Prize in the Society’s 2017 Competition and Second Prize in the Society’s 2015 Competition.