Saturday, March 23, 2013


Chapter 17: Geryon

“Behold the monster with the stinging tail
            who bores through mountains, ruins mighty walls,
            equally crumbles arms and armaments,”                                 3

my leader said, beckoning me to where
            the causeway stopped and overhung thin air,
            and there I saw the foul big form of Fraud                             6

rested his chest upon the causeway end,  
            his lower parts writhing in space behind. 
The face was like a kind strong man’s, the rest                      9

was scorpion, with two great clawing paws
hairy to armpits, but no Persian rug
had such gay patterns as his back, sides, breast,                    12
in shifting colours like chameleon skin.
As boats lie half ashore and half afloat,                     
the foremost part stayed put, the stinging part,                     15

stayed air-borne, quivering. “We need this brute,”
            my guide said, “for we can’t descend by foot.”
            At the plain’s rim we passed a squatting group.                    18

“Stay here,” he said, “while I negotiate,”
            and on he sped while I glumly remained
            near the extreme edge of the seventh ledge.                            21

Here bankers’ frantic hands were beating out
            flakes of fire endlessly from skin, air, sands
            like dogs in heat stung mad by fleas, wasps, flies,                24        
yet still they stared with blood-shot, pain-crazed eyes
            into a sack slung around each one’s neck.
            I knew none there, but saw upon their sacks                         27

old coats-of-arms: lion on yellow ground,
            white goose on red, also a pregnant sow
            azure on white. “Get lost!” one of them said.                                    30

“The living have no place in this damned pit.
            I, a Paduan among Florentines,
            spit in your face!” He tried to, pursing lips,                          33

protruding tongue. I hurried from that place
            and found my guide seated astride that brute.
            “Come on,” said he, “be brave. We need this lift.                  36

Climb up and sit in front and you will find
            I shield you from the stinging tail behind.”
            This struck me into a vile trembling fit,                                  39

teeth chittering as with cold. Shame alone,
            such as good teachers can make pupils feel,
            set me astride those shoulders none should trust.                  42

I tried to say, “Please hold me tight.” My fright
            was so extreme no words came out, and yet
            he clapsed me tight, saying to Geryon,                                  45

“Go now, but make your flight both wide and slow
            to suit the greater weight you bear.” As ships
            back slowly from a quay, so Geryon                                     48

drew back, and when quite clear, turned tail to where
            his chest had been – stretched tail out like an eel,
            then pulled air to him with his paws and swam                     51

out into space. Fear gripped me as it gripped
            Apollo’s child who, letting go the reins,
            sent chariot sun scorching across the sky,                              54

or Icarus when feathers fell away,
            hearing his father yell, “You’ve flown too high!”
            No worse fear could be mine than when I saw                       57

only the air and thing to which I clung.
            We wheeled, descending slow, but all I knew
            was air blew in my face from far below.                                 60

Once, noticing the falling waters roar,           
            I raised my head, looked down, saw fire, heard moans
            then cowered back, recalling what I’d known –                      63

worse pains were coming up on every side.
            Our aircraft glided to a rocky floor
            below the cliff. We climbed down. Geryon                            66

zoomed swiftly off like arrow from a bow.


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