*WARNING - GRAPHIC IMAGES in this poem*
I think I've got my afterlife mixed up here in that I separate Perdition from Hell when I'm fairly sure they're one and the same place! Anyway, this poem is a direct precursor to later effort My Captain in that I use the same technique of torture being turned back on to the torturer. Once more I have The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in mind for those graphic images employed and wonder as per the close of Mengele if he himself is the one tormenting me.
Annihilation of the self is universal concern for those of us who fear death, and biblical teaching is specific that suffering in Hell for eternity is not the punishment for reprobates and the depraved who fail to repent in this life. Instead, it is (as per the start of this paragraph) total destruction of the soul. But whoever is torturing me here seems more to have Purgatory or the medieval concept of Hell in mind as he torches me for the sins I have committed, only stopping when I call him out for being no god and then turning the tables back upon him.
There is more going on here though, the 'single equation' which becomes something of a theme for me in these middle poems and then the figure 'Braided Shore' rising from the ashes of this creature, his identity to be fully explained in my next poem Madness Revisited. There's mention of Coriolanus and his mother in my own relationship with both mother and father, concluded by the latter's directive to me to move from asking 'why' to 'how', the hallmark of a better poet.
I am ill here again, of that there is no doubt, but it is a different state of mind to that of my earlier poems. Readers of atheistic and agnostic bent may well shake their heads and wag fingers at my talk of Hell, Purgatory and Perdition but my church upbringing and my life's reading have brought me to the expulsion of theme which characterise this poem, finally striding north towards Redemption (at least there is some hope underlying current misery of thought!). Another bizarre poem, this is Perdition...
It stank of excrement.
Maggots crawled beneath its skin and burst through the loosehung flesh.
Its jaws gaped as it fouled contagion the air.
‘Welcome,’ it stank, ‘to eternity.’
The iron portcullis slammed shut behind me.
Pestilential vapours kicked up from the floor and shot through my lungs.
I could barely breathe.
‘You,’ it boomed, ‘have offended the Lord.’
I quivered, shook, and looked down at myself.
Fire burned in my belly.
Slow, at first, but even as I watched it grew inside,
Touching my ribs, scalding my throat, scorching my tongue.
‘I may not speak,’ I spluttered, ‘how may I defend...?’
The words dried, fried, as the beast broke a smile.
‘There is no defence here,’ it grinned, ‘you are guilty. Now, you must pay for your sins.’
I stood terrified as it came towards me.
Dear Lord, it smelled of offal so the stench tore at my nose hairs.
It gripped me roughly under the arms, lifted me up, and drove me back upon a hook hanging from the ceiling beam,
The point ripping through my back.
My flesh peeled like kebab meat.
I yelled in agony, but the fiend only laughed.
‘Had you a better life,’ it cackled, ‘you would not face justice now.’
It moved round me, watching, snarling, gnashing its jaws,
Then dug a poker in the fire and glowing brought it near.
‘This,’ it said, digging the fire my shin, ‘is that for all the times you spoke of someone double standard.’
I never knew such pain, it went beyond hurt, touching a point no scream of anguish might quiet.
‘This,’ it said, digging my calf, ‘is for all the times you turned your mind away from the suffering of fellow man.’
My thigh, for placing money over love,
My belly, drunk in sobriety's stead,
My chest, lust for friendship,
And last, my face, for sins committed in thought, unsaid, undone, though there my sudden contemplation.
‘Wait!’ I screamed, voice come from somewhere I knew not, ‘these are human shortfalls.’
The beast stood confused, reheated the iron.
‘Dare you question divinity?’ it growled, turning back towards me.
I couldn't speak, yet utterance still came the quick.
‘You are no god,’ I said, ‘no Maker would so abuse the creature he created. This is molestation.’
‘This is Perdition,’ the fiend retorted, ‘all are cleansed afore further travel. To Hell!’
‘I have just come from there,’ I said disinterested, ‘have suffered the place this last decade and now I will be free.’
He laughed scornfully, advanced on me and lunged forward,
Yet at one stroke I somehow moved, spun from the hook,
Strook him hard and stole the iron.
He stumbled back.
I moved to him, grinning, watched him tumble to the floor, and stood over his stinking flesh.
‘This,’ I said, digging the heat his shin, ‘is for putting us the planet with no cause for our existence.’
He yelped in pain.
‘This,’ I continued, burning his calf, ‘is for survivor guilt, that living past the Fall and Flood we carry it upon our shoulders.’
His thigh, including need for violence in our make-up,
Belly, Babel punishment, that different tongues so oft have forced the race to war,
Chest, the very nature of the world, whose single equation permits force to dominate,
And last, his face, that His master should leave, abandon, and cease to love His creation.
I felt the poker dig deep his features. He frazzled on the floor.
Braided Shore rose from his ashes.
‘So there you hide,’ I seethed, ‘little wonder, I suppose, that you cower behind something else.’
He said nothing, simply stared past me, when I turned did see my mother.
I ran to her, hugged, held, then found I took up post behind her apron strings.
He smiled, replaced straight way by other ghosts my past, laughing at my status hid in folds her clothes.
‘Men may be close to their mothers,’ I yelled at the flitting shadows, ‘pay heed that Roman hero.’
‘Control,’ returned the whispers, their leaves rustling in the breeze, ‘control may turn a man, else shift him ’gainst her like.’
‘I have not turned,’ I steamed, ‘nor have I shifted. Mum, let me go.’
She did, enough for her to turn my dad and leave me back behind him.
‘Da,’ I said, ‘I have tried, tried so hard to help. I even came down here to face the beast, yet at close I failed there too. I am sorry. I must leave.’
‘Leave,’ he echoed, his voice strong and steady, ‘leave? You confronted him and stood your ground as human. People shall take notice of that.’
‘Yes,’ I sighed, ‘and they shall mock me if nature of this globe remains the same.’
‘How,’ he said gently, ‘not why. Still you focus on adolescent question. Until you shift, you shall not break the conundrum. Now think, and ask it how.’
I looked up and found myself alone.
No beast, no Braided Shore, parents nor past.
‘Put it its place,’ a thin wind whistled, ‘lay it its grave.’
Clouds swirled my head, mists dulled my intellect, where to now?
‘From Perdition,’ spoke the wind, ‘south to Hell; north Redemption. Though we guess already which path you choose.’
‘Then I'll surprise you,’ I clamoured, striding north, ‘I need hope.’
Off I trod, the faintest sound behind me,
‘We knew you'd go that way.’