. Moments from Dante’s Inferno Prepared to travel, if the gods allowed, I saw the woods were dreary, dark as death. I chose to heed a blessing there endowed, before emerging spirits took a breath. And that was Virgil, orator and font of god-like wisdom. He began to speak: "The lion, wolf, and leopard each will want to taste your flesh before you reach the peak. Another pathway beckons: as your guide I'll show you spirits who await reward as well as doomed and wretched souls denied the entrance to the kingdom of your lord." And then we saw, as if to sanctify our path, a brilliant burst of golden sky. We stood before the gates of hell. A sign foretold the misery and dark despair, and issued warnings blunt and saturnine: Abandon Hope! and Idle Souls Beware! A ferryman had come to shore. He turned to take us close to Hades' borderline. Said Virgil, "Spirits here have never earned their destinies; through folly or design they wasted time, embraced incompetence, and loved themselves instead of those in need." And as he spoke I saw the consequence of their transgressions: worms began to feed upon their flesh, and all the dreadful fears of hell were flowing in their blood and tears. We came upon the River Styx. A boat approached, and Virgil roared, "The gods ordain that we shall travel to the most remote extents of hell!" Ahead, the dark terrain was filled with spirits stuck in oozing slime. "I know that man!" I yelled, for there, immersed in mud, appeared a soul who spent his time on earth in politics, where all the worst assaults on common people were conceived. "It’s risky here," said Virgil, "You’ll survive for now, but as a human you've achieved the depths allowable. If you're alive you must return." (He slyly reassured me: "We'll continue on, you have my word.") Along the way we faced the putrid smell of excrement. The spirits were interred in waste, and watched by Cérberus: all hell was frightened by this beast---three heads assured a view of all the flesh that he could tear with bird-like talons. Virgil counseled: "Throw some slime at all its heads to try to wear him down!" But then a spirit from below exclaimed, "We're damned because of gluttony!" He seemed inclined to tell his tale of woe: "I lived in self-absorbed depravity, and paid the price. A wastrel long ago, I'm dining now on feces like a beast!" And so we left him to his reeking feast. Beyond a ridge we heard the frightful sound of women crying out, delirious with anger. These were Furies, now unbound from husbands, gathered with mysterious Medusa, who had serpents in her hair and powers magical. "You'll turn to stone," said Virgil with dismay. "Don't even dare to look at her!" A Fury will dethrone her man, my Master said. Misogyny is first upon her plate: a man proclaims a woman is a source of fantasy, a charm for his indulgence. But the flames of rightful vengeance will consume the beds of lust as Furies rip their men to shreds. Descending through the rocks, we heard a grunt: the Minotaur, half-human, head of bull, and bloody red with anger, stood in front of boiling river water that was full of spirits damned because of violence on earth. And then the Centaurs came: half-horse, half-man, with bows and arrows to dispense their cruelty on runaways, to force them back to Bloody River. Boiling there were famous men: Attila, and the Great but brutal Alexander. With a flair for wrangling Virgil started to berate the horsemen: "heed the gods and be our guide!" So on the backs of Centaurs we would ride. The next display of horror made me grieve for spirits punished for eternity. We saw the devils stepping up to cleave a tongue, a neck, a groin, repeatedly. Once healed, the spirit had its injury renewed by demons joined in morbid rounds of revelry. I learned the history of spirits split in two: the common grounds were schism and division, civil war, and separation based on color, creed, and other hateful reasons. Men abhor their fellow men through arrogance or greed, and they condemn themselves to demon knives in punishment for all the severed lives. And lastly, in the depths of hell, I grasped the ghastly truth of Lucifer, the prince of death, a triple-headed beast. I gasped at wings and claws and teeth that might evince a spirit's frantic plea for swift demise. But Virgil swept me onto Satan's wing and clambered up. Above my frightened cries a brilliant sun appeared, a sparkling spring enlivened us, and now, with demons gone, I looked ahead to blessings in the dawn. . . Paul Buchheit is an author of books, poems, progressive essays, and scientific journal articles. He recently completed his first historical novel, 1871: Rivers on Fire. His poetry has appeared in The Lyric, Illinois State Poetry Society, Poets & Patrons of Chicagoland, Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest, Society of Classical Poets, and other publications.