Deep in the bowels of the ground,
rumbles grew louder. Pine trees shook
unzippering branches that stitched horizon.
Earth’s mouth cracked wide-open
spewed fire, slogged slag
into the molten air.
He stood at the brink crying,
Dio mio. Then Dante prayed a prayer.
But its fragrance was stenched
with sulfur, its melody subverted
by the buzz of Beelzebub—
flies swarmed like drones of smoke
swirling with the agony of voices.
For a moment, his compassion stayed
the weeping and gnashing.
For the briefest moment,
the foul yellow air cleared,
and it was quiet in the dawn
of his dream. In the purple
bottom of the abyss, he saw the Lord
of the Underworld. Again he cried,
Dio mio. Is this the one
who has plagued all mankind
since the foundations of the world?
That baby-face-blue-eyed devil? No?
red-handled underwear? No pitchfork?
What kind of hell is this?
But Dante didn’t see the cockatrice
with its salacious eyes, skulking
in the shadows of the pit.
John C. Mannone has work in Artemis Journal, Poetry South, Blue Fifth Review, New England Journal of Medicine, Peacock Journal, Gyroscope Review, Baltimore Review, Pedestal, Pirene’s Fountain, and others. He’s a Horror Writers Association Scholarship winner (2017), a Jean Ritchie Fellowship winner in Appalachian literature (2017) and served as celebrity judge for the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (2018). He has three poetry collections and has been nominated for the Pushcart, Rhysling, and Best of the Net awards. He chaired the Dwarf Stars Anthology (2019). He edits poetry for Abyss & Apex, Silver Blade, Liquid Imagination, and American Diversity Report. He’s a retired professor of physics near Knoxville, TN. http://jcmannone.wordpress.com