William Tweed

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Dante slogs through marshland
cloaked by drifting fog
seeping off a river
where lights of a silent ferry
flow by like suspended stars.

He senses the beat of a city
its smudged uneven horizon
far growls and diesel stink
busses and trucks out late
somewhere east on a bridge.
He calls on God to guide his way.

Then he stops at the shore of a river
the water lapping at a metal skeleton:
burned hulk of an old fire engine
a shadow pocked with rusty holes

cannibalized

gone its steering wheel
front hood a ravaged cage
the engine lost to thieves,
abandoned
painted letters revealed in moonlight:
“F.D.N.Y.”

A figure lies bound by chains of coins
silver leashes
stretched from his wrists
    to an axle
the victim gaunt in rags
black beard and onyx eyes
blinking in time
to a macabre tune, the brittle
notes of teeth on bone

rats at work on legs and feet.
Dante drops to his knees.
“My God!”

“You won’t find Him here,”
says the wretch.

“Who are you?” asks Dante.

He moans and jerks his legs
rattling the coins.
“In life I was William Tweed.”

Dante stiffens in recognition.
Tweed…the Boss of Tammany Hall!
“You took bribes from crooked builders,
stole millions from the city.”

Tweed bares his teeth
like any other rat.
“I had control from the city charter.”

Dante, desolate in his soul,
longs for the guilds of Italy
where Ordinances banned the wealthy
from public service. “In Florence, we’d have cut off
your hand.”

He turns from the rusted hulk
the steady lap of water
hears the honk of geese
somewhere in clouds
reflecting the dull sheen
of a city feigning sleep
then
loses
        himself
                in
                        the
                                dark.

William “Boss” Tweed was a New York politician convicted for stealing 45 million dollars from New York City taxpayers in 1877 through political corruption.

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