Every week we are given three writing prompts in class, and we have to do a “timed write” for ten minutes. Usually these prompts are pretty strange. Oddly enough, with the exception of one, all of my (very few) published poems have been freewrites; this is probably because the prompts are so weird and I’m forced to use new materials to construct the poem. Here are a few examples of past prompts: “When I was in the Underworld,” “The King said once again,” “At the edge of the continent,” etc. Last week our prompt was “At the Quotidian Inferno.”
I happen to love Dante’s Inferno, but I have to admit to having horrible nightmares after re-reading bits and pieces of the cantos, especially the ones with hybrids. I suspect Dante might have suffered a psychic break of some sort to commit these vivid images to words. And, yet again, he’d never seen Las Vegas.
Waiting at the fiery gates
of The Quotidian Inferno,
our guide is a Greek in vintage Pumas.
Says he goes by P. V. Maro.
He’s got something to show us.
“Nine levels of scary, a dark wood and
a Satanic freak show at the end.
Don’t worry about the pets, they don’t bite.
I know the way through the joint,
up to a point. Or down to one.
It’s bigger than the Mall of America,
And darker than the Chunnel Tunnel.”
Even if it smells of sorrow and rotten luck,
your curiosity overtakes you.
“For a few bucks,” says our guide,
“Get a personal, behind the scenes tour
of the garden of earthly delights!
A carnal carnival, a dark themed park–
centaurs stand knee-deep
in the shallow rapids of bloody rivers
among the bobbing heads of murderers
to ensure their suffering is eternal.
It scares the stuff out of the living,”
says P.V. Maro with the vintage Pumas.
“At the Sinner’s Apothecary, one can find
remedies for dropsy, drops for Gluttony
cooling agents for Lust, elixirs for Avarice,
leeches for Usury, placebos for Fraud
snake oil for Greed and a stinging nettle
mouthwash, special-made for Heresy.
In the Quotidian Inferno Funhouse
you can walk across burning sands,
confess to the Harpies all of your
marital indiscretions; your own
Congressman is shaking hands
at the Lake of Boiling Pitch, where his
molasses fingers trade in sticky secrets.”
Sensing the sale was going nowhere,
P.V. Varo had a change of heart:
“There’s another joint across the strip–
if you want, half-way between here and
the Contrapasso, just past the Acheron–
The Garden Variety Paradise!
Nice place, good food, clean fun.
Funny,” he says, lighting a cigarette.
“but it never draws a crowd.”