TW: Suicide/Death, Alcoholism, Miscarriage CANTO ONE.Midway upon the journey of our lifeI found myself within a forest dark,For the straightforward pathway had been lost.Ah me! how hard a thing it is to sayWhat was this forest savage, rough, and stern,Which in the very thought renews the fear/////You are a child of God. Raised a lamb to slaughter, you watch your father’s movements. He limps and heaves, lungs heavy with sick.
You watch your mother weep. You witness her sacrilege, giving homage to a bottle of Russian spirits. You are quiet, often forgotten to the screams and stomps of three other children. They have learned to howl when you’ve only learned to whine. But your meekness is sorely mistaken for weakness.
Your father departs without a ‘goodbye’. You are the first to see him, a stack of bones and skin, draped over the couch like discarded clothing. You see nothing in his eyes. And you don’t yet understand that that nothing is the strongest something. You don’t cry. You don’t plead.
You can feel his words on your neck, breath in your hair, hand on your shoulder. To you, he is still there. That night you dream of him. Blue skies. Ruffled clothes. Laughter and music. You dream of the love your mother abandoned for addiction. CANTO TWO.
So bitter is it, death is little more;But of the good to treat, which there I found,Speak will I of the other things I saw there.I cannot well repeat how there I entered,So full was I of slumber at the momentIn which I had abandoned the true way./////You are nine when you begin to understand. You close your eyes to watch the world. To touch true feeling and true intent. You open your eyes to wander lost, among fake smiles and shielded words. Your sisters’ dream of sunlight and your brother dreams of the cold.
Your mother screams and runs through her nightmares, her face darkened by shadows and hardening in the light. You touch their grace and devour their prayers. And when you wake, you think yourself a god.You are woven of fire-bred brilliance.
The stories you read, you take into the night. You cling to sermons, taking them with you into the night. You hold them hard, hoping that they will stop ill temptations. Your first year comes with descent, sunlight turning to blood and cold turning to rain. You sleep and you see the darkness and find it addicting. You are your mother’s son and you are twelve the first time she hits you. CANTO THREE.
My Guide descended down into the boat,And then he made me enter after him,And only when I entered seemed it laden.Soon as the Guide and I were in the boat,The antique prow goes on its way, dividingMore of the water than ’tis wont with others.While we were running through the dead canal,Uprose in front of me one full of mire,And said, “Who ‘rt thou that comest ere the hour?”And I to him: “Although I come, I stay not;But who art thou that hast become so squalid?””Thou seest that I am one who weeps,” he answered./////You cover the torrent of colors as they blossom on your skin. You bury your head in your books. You avoid your siblings eyes. You flourish their dreams so that they will not notice. And when your mother hits you again, you grin wide like a shark, tempting the waters to fill with chum.
You endure for six months before you take to her dreams, churning haze into nightmares. You do this every night until waking is too much for her to bare. You stain her with her atrocities. You torment her until she drowns herself in her drink. And your belly full of malice, you swim back into the deep. Your Aunt Lena, kinder than your mother and healthier than your father, takes you all in. She is sweet and has a library that helps your imagination wonder. You see pictures of buildings built with old dreams and you take them to sleep with you, dreaming of the most wonderful things.
You give your eldest sister a castle where she is queen. And for your second oldest sister you build a stable, rich with german stallions taken from the plains. For your younger brother you make a labyrinth, a quest to fill his time and a guide to see him to the path. And, for a time, you are happy.
CANTO FOUR.And I to him: “With weeping and with wailing,Thou spirit maledict, do thou remain;For thee I know, though thou art all defiled.”Then stretched he both his hands unto the boat;Whereat my wary Master thrust him back,Saying, “Away there with the other dogs!”/////You let time take you kindly as you find a place in the waking world. You stray from your dreams and keep your feet in reality. You find that there is love in rain and joy in the clouds.
You relinquish your books and draw out your structures, beautifully and perfect. You find a young girl’s hand on your thigh in the study hall and you two sneak away to sin. You don’t let her touch you, her palms making your skin crawl. You hear her whisper ‘Oh, god’. The girl after her saying, ‘Don’t stop.’ And again and again until their faces blend, you control their hands and their touch and you find them in their dreams at night, recounting the pleasure. You are twenty-one and studying in Berlin when you meet Hannah Gehrig. You say something witty but cruel.
She insults you and throws a drink in your face. She hates you from the start. But you see her again soon and you smile, in that charming way you do, and she bends. You never let her touch you until you’re drunk and giggling, tangled in the sheets.
In the weeks after, she touches your face and holds your hand and you skin doesn’t crawl. And some months later, your head on her stomach, you whisper to the child sleeping in her belly. CANTO FIVE.Thereafter with his arms he clasped my neck;He kissed my face, and said: “Disdainful soul,Blessed be she who bore thee in her bosom.
That was an arrogant person in the world;Goodness is none, that decks his memory;So likewise here his shade is furious.How many are esteemed great kings up there,Who here shall be like unto swine in mire,Leaving behind them horrible dispraises!”/////You two are married when her stomach is round with life. You creep into her dreams to ease her worry and calm her nerves. You give her happiness as she wakes and delight as she slumbers.
You can feel the baby whispering by way of cravings and movement. You love her dearly and never shy from her touch. You feel her nightmares, when they come, shadowed by the demons that haunt her. You can feel her slipping as the days progress. You can feel the pain in her heart grow. You can’t control your desperation when, in her dreams, you watch her die. Your child falling from her arms into the abyss below.
One night, you are screaming, a monster creeping over your bed. You watch it touch her and see her panic grow. But when you wake, the shadow is gone. You find blood on the sheets.”I’m sorry but, the baby is gone–” says the doctor. CANTO SIX.And I: “My Master, much should I be pleased,If I could see him soused into this broth,Before we issue forth out of the lake.
“And he to me: “Ere unto thee the shoreReveal itself, thou shalt be satisfied;Such a desire ’tis meet thou shouldst enjoy.”A little after that, I saw such havocMade of him by the people of the mire,That still I praise and thank my God for it/////Your marriage struggles through another three years. You blame yourself and give over to your temptations. You wander dreams, an addict, until you are lost. You like death and sleep to darkness. She tells you that you’re distant and you call her foul names.
You regret them even as you say them. You hate yourself as she leaves. And, your stomach full on anger, you head back out to sea.You finish school and find a career. It’s easy, like all the things you learn. You have a knack for being smart. You have a talent for being cruel. You deter touch and kindness and you let the nightmares that have fed you take root.
You wander with strangers as they dream, curling their fears into being. You break your competition by fueling their nightmares. You wish death on them, letting the contortions you create drive them insane. You love it. You love that it makes you feel powerful. But the happiness is fleeting. And so, when you wake, you create. Perfect structures, sentient grace of stone and metal that twist and bend like trees.
You are a GENIUS! a SEVANT! You are praised and loved and when you sleep, you are feared. CANTO SEVEN.His mouth uplifted from his grim repast, 408That sinner, wiping it upon the hairOf the same head that he behind had wastedThen he began: “Thou wilt that I renewThe desperate grief, which wrings my heart alreadyTo think of only, ere I speak of it;But if my words be seed that may bear fruitOf infamy to the traitor whom I gnaw,Speaking and weeping shalt thou see together.”/////You leave Germany on a whim.
You feel the boredom creeping in. You follow the pain as it’s bred. You try shed the faces that haunt you in your sleep. You find a town where nightmares are regularly given life, hoping to dispose of them in reality. Because the dreams are where you reign. Here, you think, you can be a god.