Saturday, July 06, 2013


Chapter 30: More Falsifiers

The pagan gods were moved by earthy lust.
            Spite against women who her husband raped
            made Juno far, far crueler than most.                                                  3

Juno annoyed the Theban Semele
            by bringing madness to her family.
            One, thinking wife and children were wild beasts                              6

slaughtered his son and drove the rest to drown.
            Enslaved after her city was destroyed,
Hecuba, wife of Priam, king of Troy,                                                 9

was also maddened by the same false gods.
            Seeing her daughter slain upon the tomb
of Achilles, her son’s corpse on a beach,                                            12

she did not weep but barked like rabid dog.
No madness out of Thebes or Troy was worse
than two I saw now – bare white hungry ghosts                                15

who quickly crawled on hands and knees around,
goring the helpless invalids like hogs.
From behind one bit Capocchio’s neck                                              18

and dragged him, thus gripped, painfully away
            face down and belly ripped by the rough ground.
            Griffolino, shuddering with dismay,                                                   21

said, “That ghoul was Giano Schicchi,
            mimic and forger of a dead man’s will,
            thus mutilating his identity                                                                 24

so he is damned to mangle dead souls still.”
            “As you are not tormented by the other,”
            said I, “please tell me who that other was.”                                       27

“Myrrha, a Greek who broke two moral laws,”
            said he, “for in disguise she fucked her father.
            In stolen shapes that pair indulged their greed.                                  30

Now they must gnaw at us like starving apes
            though that was not how they preferred to feed.”
            As the two furies vanished from my sight                                         33

a sinner close at hand said, “Look at me –
            pity poor Adam’s miserable plight.”
            So dropsically swollen up was he                                                      36

at first a belly like a giant lute
            was all that I could see, then saw attached
            his shrunken head with raw cracked lips that said,                            39

“Once I owned all a man could want, but now
            water, just one wee sip, is what I need.
            The land I love, the place of my misdeed                                           42

has cool wells, small refreshing streams that slip
            between green hills down Casentino’s vale 
            into the Arno. Stern justice decrees                                               45       

these memories hurt more than my disease.
            A master goldsmith in Romena, I
            forged the bright florins for Romena’s counts                                    48

thus helping them pay off outstanding debts.
            To know my fakes required uncommon sense ­–
            twenty one parts were gold and three pretence –                               51

but forgery was proved. I burned for that,
            being a workman and an employee.
            Aristocratic folk employing me                                                     54       

suffered no loss of life or liberty.
O, how I long to see the wretches here –
Guido, Allesandro and their brother.                                                  57

I’ve heard that one is here. My spite is such,
            I’d gladly go (did weight not tie me down)
            a hundred miles to gloat upon the sight                                              60

though I could only crawl an inch each year.”
            I said, “A couple on your right hand coast
            are reeking like roast meat. Have you their name?”                            63

He said, “They were here ages before I came.
            They neither speak nor stir and never will,
            I think. The wife of Potiphar is one,                                                  66

who falsely blamed Joseph. The other is
            Sinon, the Greek liar who ruined Troy.
            Their fevers make them smoke.” This short reply                             69

annoyed the Greek. With sudden fist he smote
            the big belly which boomed just like a drum.
            The goldsmith punched the other’s face as fast.                                72 

“Feel how my arm has strength my body lacks!”
            he yelled: came the reply, “you loved the fire
            while your strong arms had many coins to fake,                                75

but liked it less with arms chained to the stake.”
            Cried coiner: “Since the wooden horse disgorged,
            Sinon is now a name for treachery.”                                                  78

The Greek cried out, “Enjoy forever now
            the thirst that cracks your tongue, that rotten bung
            that can’t let out the foulness in your  paunch,                                   81

swelling it to a hedge that hides your face.”
            The coiner sneered, “Again your tongue has wagged
            in vain. You crave cool water more than me.                                    84

The scorching fever makes your thirst the worst.”
            Then suddenly my master said to me,
            “Listen much longer to this sorry stuff                                              87

and we will start to have a quarrel too.”
            He spoke so angrily I blushed with shame,
knowing I was to blame.  Seeking an excuse                                   90

I longed for words and found that no words came.
            The fun I’d found in their vile argument        
seemed a bad dream from which I could not wake,                          93

The memory of this upsets me still.
I stood there dumb with my head bowed until
            he smiled and said, “Cheer up. Do not regret                                  96

faults you will not forget so won’t repeat.    
Remember me reminding you of this.
            Less shame would clean your soul of harsher sin                             99

but joy in spiteful talk is always mean.”




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