Richard Speck

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Dante slogs through swamp
sawgrass cutting his skin
sweat drenched and whelped
        from mosquitoes.
Worse yet, the parch of thirst
and the wakes of snakes aimed at him
like a dark page of wriggling nibs.

Cypress trees
orange in the setting sun
cast all below in fetid dark
the air still,
promising rotting things.

He stops and views a surreal scene:
a gaunt and naked man
bound by vines shot through
with red of poison oak.
His face is long and pocked
the eyes unblinking pupils
islands in too much white.

Surrounding the tree
angels stroke the sinner
with vipers like vibrant scarves.

Dante dares to stop.
“Who are you?
Why such persecution?”

“I slit the throats of eight nurses
        in south Chicago.”
He turns his face from a flicking snake.
“I would have done a ninth
but failed to count,
and one hid under the bed.”

Dante stares
awed more by what he sees
than the fanged swimmers
        approaching below.

The sinner implores:
“Step up and splash my face.
Ignore these angel things,
their snakes are just
        for show.”

Dante moves to flank the tree.
“Those women….
they had to watch each other die.”

The slayer laughs.
“My knife was sharp; it didn’t hurt.
One wrote as much with her blood.”
He mocks an angel
then turns to face the Pilgrim.
“Come here and wet my mouth.
I’ll whisper a hint for your search.”

Dante wades past the tree
and toward a darker swamp
then turns to face the killer.
“Love doesn’t need your compass.”

Richard Benjamin Speck was an American mass murderer who systematically tortured, raped, and murdered eight student nurses from South Chicago Community Hospital on July 14, 1966.

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