Dana Gioia goes to hell…

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Previous visitors sent back a few postcards…

Dana Gioia is going to hell. And it’s not his first trip, either. Some earlier visits include Dana Gioia‘s blank verse poem Descent to the Underworld:

At first the way is not
Entirely dark. Some daylight filters down
And gives the cave that same bleak iridescence
The sun shows in eclipse. But gradually
The path descends into unending twilight.

And in another, later poem, “Finding a Box of Family Letters,” he wonders:

What does it cost to send a postcard
to the underworld?

.
It’s verging on preoccupation. This time, however, the former National Endowment for the Arts chairman (and more recently, California Poet Laureate) has written a poem of seventeen stanzas – also blank verse. It’s in the current Hudson Review, and begins:

The Underworld

Facilis descensus Averno.
(Descending into Hell is easy.)
—Virgil

I. The Trip

It isn’t difficult to visit Hell,
As long as you can follow the instructions.
Get on the Underground, the Western Line.
Go to the final car. Sit by yourself
In the last row. Don’t talk to anyone.
Don’t exit when you reach the outmost station.
Don’t move—not even when the lights go off.
 

II. The Fare

When the conductor comes to hand out tickets,
There’s a small charge. No money changes hands,
But you must offer something of your own—
Your book, your fountain pen, a lock of hair,
Your smile, perhaps the memory of your mother.
He’ll always notice something that he needs.
Each trade is final. There are no returns.
 

III. The Passengers

There will be other passengers onboard.
Don’t talk to them. They know much less than you.
There’s nothing notable about the damned,
Except how commonplace they seem—a clerk,
An engineer, a carpenter, a thief.
And frankly, they aren’t interested in you.
Sit quietly. Remember why you’ve come.

Read the rest here.

“My dear, my dear, it is not so dreadful here.” (Photo: Starr Black)


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