Sortes Virgilianae

(The Fortune-teller’s Words to the Poet)

“I don’t understand, I can scarcely see
In the faulty light, but I think he is standing
On a platform somewhere below the ground.

He is a shadow lost amid shadows, a wave
On the watery stairs, a shade tasting
The fetid air and touching the fog.

I see him taking a tentative step forward
And then another and another until the dark
Stumbles and welcomes him into its grasp.

Disconsolate being, a train shudders
In the distance overhead, and I remember
A wind whirling and spitting him out,

Steel doors opening and then clanging shut,
A branch glowing on the floor beneath the seat—
Untouched, forgotten. What does this mean?

The way downward is easy from Avernus.
Black Dis’s door stands open night and day.
But to retrace your steps to heaven’s air,

There is the trouble, there is the hard task.
And now he is wandering through a labyrinth
Of dead-end corridors and empty tunnels,

Broken mirrors and smudged signs pointing
Nowhere, voices echoing like footsteps
In the iron hallways. Listen to me:

If you want to become more than a shadow
Among shadows, you must carry back the memory
Of your father disintegrating in your arms,

You must bring words that will console others,
You must believe in stairs leading upward
To summer’s resplendent, celestial blues.”