Anger’s Slough

An Essay on Dante’s Inferno

Canto VIII

Illustration by Gustave Dore

We’d waited upon the shore of the deep slough for a long time, standing in darkness, hearing the water’s low lap and the distant groans of souls. And I was both in dread and bored. Dante did not speak, so I didn’t either.

At last, two spotlights shone out from far away, pointing up at the sky – like the kinds one might see in Hollywood, or a WW2 bombing – they were shutting off, and turning on, as though signaling to each other.

As if in sequence of this signal, there came to us over the waters a little dingy – its motor’s gentle purr seemed a loud noise in all the quiet – an old woman was its pilot.

– Now art thou arrived, fell soul? She asked us as she landed her boat on the bank.

– A boating for two across the slough. Said Dante, handing her, as payment, a poppy.

We boarded. The boat sank a little with my weight. We took off, the motor making its gentle push. I was rather curious about this old woman, who seemed so frail and small and bent, but guided the dingy with the confidence of habit.

– What is your name, mam? Asked I.

– The widow of wars. Said she as she stuffed the flower petals up into her nose.

Now our boat’s journey across the slough, or swamp, had become very bumpy, and I thought that perhaps some rocks our path obstructed. But looking down taught the truth: Our boat bounced along shields, swords, bullets, wings, bursting flak, fishhooks, beartraps, all the weapons of man, and worst of all, men and women, of all kinds, warring in the water.

Now as we went across the figures did not see our boat above them – and the widow was careful to steer around and between the struggles – but I recognized one man in the swamp, and he recognized me, and lifted himself (on two clashing heads) halfway out of it and looked at me.

Joel. He had not even died yet, and yet here he already was. If you knew him too you knew why. I’d met him in Boston. A dead city. He’d fought his way through it, for the last of us.

– Criminals and kings be caught in swamp! The mire is our own make. And monster’s me, under a face of fungi, or in a cloud of spores, behind the shambler’s click’s a sound worse, a Man’s raging curse. Said Joel.

Now the widow did not needs push him away from our boat, for the others in the slough, hearing his words, swarmed him, and brought him down again to be be-mired in the melee, the wrestle, the tooth and nail.

In the swamp, he struggled as before. And I felt very sorry for him. I wondered, had I not gained safety from his fight? For I’d gotten through the dead city. For had he not killed all those evil things that were in our way? And what about all those other strugglers’ struggles? Here were Axis and Allies, comrades and villains, patriots and partisans – who’s half was my side?

I conveyed these questions to Dante and the old woman.

– Such is the widow’s window to war. Said she, simply.

And she looked down on all her sons, and daughters, and departed husbands as over their anger’s slough she oared her higher course. She steered around them. She didn’t touch them, but put another petal up her nose.

Dante said nothing, but seemed to enjoy the view – I think he felt he was above it all.

And so again I was left to think on the sight by myself.

I came to no certain conclusions, but the boat brought us to the shore, and the Metropolis of Hell, formerly known as the City Diss, now rebranded as:

Los Angeles Caidos

Cheers to your Sunday morning…

JCL

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