The Plumbing Cantos: Canto XVIII

The vantage point from sitting on a beast
like Geryon, (the one I rode before)
gave us an overview of things – at least

this circle, made of separate levels. More
like looking down a spiral staircase or
the atrium of a department store.

They’re marching single file on every floor,
alternate clockwise/anti-clockwise all
without a stitch of clothing (as before).

All levels joined by bridges through their walls,
all bridges head towards a central well,
all draws us through the fires and sewage falls.

Horned devil’s eyes surveyed this sewage Hell,
in Hi-Viz orange, holding scaffold poles
and cracked them over anyone who fell.

“I’m sure that guy is someone who’s well known.
A politician maybe? Let me ask…
Err… could you tell me why you’re here?”
“Er. No.

Not really.” Eyes unblinking, cold and hard
until he breathes: “Well maybe then I guess.
I compromised a politicians star

by blackmailing my sister into sex
with her to get her out the way. She begged
me not to make it known.” He smirked and said

I’m not the worst down here by any stretch.”
A devil said “You’re still a fucking pimp.”
and swung a scaffold pole down on his neck.

They ushered him away before I blinked
as Patrick tried to guide my thoughts elsewhere
and walked us to a bridge down through the stink.

“You see that figure? Royal looking? There.
That’s Jason, as in “Argonauts”. Not like
the film though. There’s a story section where

he lands at Lemnos Island where he strikes
up with the Queen there, fathering a child
then starts his quest and walks out of her life.

Madea too.” But Patrick doesn’t smile.
A deep red triangle blush has grown
on both his cheeks beneath that frown he styled

for TV. “Jason. Is he someone known
to you?” A beat. Then curtly: “No.”
“I feel
like you’re annoyed with me or something.”

Then silence. “This is where they punish me.”
I’m not sure what to say. I knew it laid
there somewhere near that frown’s temerity.

He mumbles that “It’s just the way I’m made.”
It’s more though lack of insight that I’m loathe
to speak, and hear the things he needs to say

“I had two families at once back home
and other things besides that no-one knows
but that’s enough of that.” I force a groan

from him by asking: “What did they think though?”
“They seem to learn to live with it OK
I s’pose.”
“What really? No-one minded?”

of course they struggled. Things were tense some days.
It was my curse to bear, and I’m cursed here,
but everybody copes in different ways.

But that’s enough for anyone to hear.
Let’s put that smile back on our faces now
and head on over to the next one near

that bridge that leads towards the groaning sound.”
The next concentric circle, full of crap
and people writhing on the shitty ground,

so full of folk, so covered in it that
you couldn’t tell if they were priests or not.
One face looks up. “What are you staring at?”

I looked at Pat. “I go to church a lot.
You learn that there are certain types of priests.
To break a dull routine becomes their God.”

I shout down: “Tell us why you’re here at least.”
“It’s my own fault!” Regretfully he slaps
his forehead which explodes with shit and grease.

“I needed things and flattery became a trap.
I could be overly obsequious
for bishopric…” But Pat has turned his back

observing something else. “Oh look at this!
My old friend Thaïs the whore! You two must meet…
Just lean a little over the abyss.

You’ll catch a sight of her, but be discreet.”
At first I see her shitty nails. Hands grip
a horizontal scaffold pole. Defeat

behind her eyes, she turns to me and squints.
I see her, feet apart. She’s squatting up
and down repeatedly. I hear a wince

escape my throat, as Patrick looks me up
and down. And also her. He laughs to log
my obvious disgust. “Oh, what the fuck

is wrong with you? For fuck’s sake Patrick. God…”

Copyright © Michael L Radcliffe 2018

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