Dante descends a thicket of woods
and feels the heat of nearby fires.
From a distance comes the barking of dogs
chasing wastrels through heavy brush.
He smells sulphur and tastes an acrid ash.
He sees no far or middle distance
only oppressive dark
gashed by random flares.
As he encounters a gnarled tree
its branches clawed by roosting harpies
he’s startled by a gritty voice.
“Please water my roots.
There is no water down here.”
Dante stops in awe.
After a moment he sits on a root
exposed in the side of the hill.
“Who are you and why are you here?”
“I am Hemingway, a suicide.
Please water my roots.
“There is no moisture here.”
Dante sits stunned and awed
envious of this writer’s skills.
“Just tell me of your Florence,” says Papa.
“Let me know of the Arno River.”
“Well…the river nourishes the city,” says Dante
“yet it can destroy by fearful floods.”
The tree seems to sigh
as if Papa imagines
the cool drenched limbs.
“If only I could feel the water.”
Dante longs for the solace of Virgil
yet the poet is nowhere to be seen.
Is Beatrice here? he wonders.
He knows that from pain
flows the blood of art
that this man, now doomed
through eternity as a tree
surrendered to suicide.
Yet the writer in Dante takes hold:
seize the moment and learn.
“In life your art seemed forged
as if from unseen fuel.”
“Fuel! The fuel from crashed planes!”
Papa shouts. “Burned skin. Crushed vertebra,
ruptured liver, spleen and kidney.
Damaged vision and hearing.
You should know, Pilgrim!
Artists write to transform hurt!”
Dante knows too well.
“You wrote with such…economy. As if….”
“As if words are the enemy!” says Papa.
“We must use them like bricks.
Only enough to build the house.”
Papa wets his lips.
“Enough with this preaching, Pilgrim.
If you find your world again
dream me a Bacardi Mojtos.”
Dante nods and backs away
fleeing the harpies’ cries.
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was one of the most significant American authors of the twentieth century. In 1952, he won the Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and the Sea. Two years later, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Hemingway committed suicide by shotgun in 1961.