Inferno: Canto I
Halfway through a bad trip
I found myself in this stinking car park,
Underground, miles from Amarillo.
Students in thongs stood there,
Eating junk food from skips,
flagmen spewing E’s,
Their breath of fetid
Myrrh and ratsbane,
And condemned chicken shin
Then I retched on rising ground;
Rabbits without ears, faces eaten away
Crawled towards a bleak lake
The stink would revive a
sparrow, spreadeagled on
It so horrified my heart
Here, by the toxic water,
lay a spotted trout, its glow
lighting paths for the VC.
And nigh the bins a giant rat,
Seediness oozing from her Flemish pores,
Pushed me backwards, bit by bit
Into Square 5,
where the wind gnaws
and sunshine is spent.
By the cashpoint
a bum asked for a light,
hoarse from long silence, beaming.
When I saw him gyrate,
His teeth all wasted,
through speed and booze,
I cried out
Whatever you are, man or ghost!’
‘Not man, though formerly a man,’
he says, ‘I hale from Providence,
Rhode Island, a Korean vet.
Once I was a poet, I wrote
of bean spasms,
was anthologised in Fuck You.’
‘You’re never Berrigan, that spring
Where all the river of style freezes?’
I ask, awe all over my facials.
‘I’m an American
Primitive,’ he says,
‘I make up each verse as it comes,
By putting things
have to go.’
‘O glory of every poet, have a light,
May my Zippo benefit me now,
And all my stripping of your Sonnets.
You see this hairy she-rat
that stalks me like a pimp:
Get her off my back,
for every vein and pulse
Throughout my frame she hath
‘You must needs another way pursue,’
He says, winking while I shade my pin,
‘If you wouldst ’scape this beast.
Come, she lets none past her,
Save the VC; if she breathes on you,
you’re teaching nights.
This way, freshman, come,
If I’m not far wrong we can find
A bar, and talk it over with Ed and Tom.’
I went where he led, across a square
And down some steps,
following the crowd.
The SU bar, where we queued
For 30 minutes
To get a watery beer, was packed;
Ed and Tom
Sat at a banquette in the corner
Chain-smoking and swapping jokes.
Here we joined them,
till closing time,
the beer doing the talking.
‘Look,’ said Tom, ‘if this guy’s got funding
And approval from the Dean and whatever,
Why not take him round?’
‘Show him the works,’ said Ed, ‘no holds barred!’
‘You mean,’ said Berrigan, ‘give him
a campus tour,
Like, give him Hell?’
‘That’s exactly what I mean,’ said Ed.
‘Let’s drink to it!’ said Tom,
At which we all raised our glasses,
Unsteadily, clinking them together above
The full ashtray.
‘Hell,’ pronounced Berrigan gnomically,
‘Is other people. Sartre said that.
Hell is Hell. I said that.’
Now people were leaving,
we shifted outside,
Into the cold air,
Where we lingered a moment sharing a last
Cigarette, then split,
Ed and Tom going to their digs
Leaving me and Ted to breathe the night air.