We sat in the cramped kitchen huddled around the stove the open oven door spreading a faint warmth that barely slid through the winter chill. The bare bulb in the ceiling strained and flickered fighting to hold as the generators were shut down, and darkness enveloped our small world. The sky was lit by the flares and the odor of exploding shells seeped through the towel sealed windows covered in the tattered bedsheets too thin to afford warmth. Ibrahim had been gone two weeks sneaking out of the city to join his brothers in Gorazde or Tuzla, or wherever it was that they were struggling to save what little was left. We huddled under the small table and dreamed of the taste of fresh bread, or even pork. In the morning he would run among the craters in the streets in search of the convoy and the handouts, which we would raven as the sun set over our war torn hell.
First published in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. XXX, No. 1 & 2, 2006
Between Scylla and Charybdis they cower amidst the ruins fearful to look skyward lest they encourage the rains of hell.
Now and then they visit the corpses, hastily buried grief drowned by the sound of the laugh of the gunner peering down from the hills. It is always night for the soul and lookout must be kept for Charon, who rides silently along the rivers of blood, that flow through her streets.
In the great halls, far removed from the horror, self-professed wise men exchange maps lines randomly drawn, scythes slicing a people. They trade in lives as chattel, reaping a bitter harvest, praying there may only be but seven lean years.
They offer a sop to Cerberus, three villages straddling the river, but the army of the hills knows they will take that and more and waits patiently for the winter when the odor of sanctity no longer arises out of the city to assail their nostrils and Shadrach is no more than a ghost.
First Appeared in Living Poets (UK), Vol. 2, No. 1, 2000.
Ice, he said, is clearly an invention of Satan, the ice cube a scaled down version of that corner of hell of which no one ever speaks, so little known.
And stop and think, we got by well for eons without a cube of ice, unless with blade we chipped it from a nearby glacier or left water out in the dead of winter, which never worked all that well in much of the world.
Whiskey, that was one of our best innovations, one of which we are rightfully proud, one which we have practiced for untold generations. We’ve been sipping it and drinking it from the word go, and each culture has come up with its own version, and it is only recently that the devil gave us the means of denigrating one of God’s greatest gifts to us.
God, mother told us, prefers things neat, as they were intended, so clearly ice is the Devil’s work. Turn away!
“You know,” she said with a smile, “that you are going straight to the infernal regions when this is over and done with, no doubt.” “I can’t imagine,” he replied, “that He who is all knowing and all powerful would ever let that happen to me.” “Be serious,” she added, “you know that the nether world is replete with scriveners of doggerel, it is their natural home when they are done here.” “But I’m a mere bard, a weaver of tales,” he cried, “nothing more, nothing less.” “Ah, yes,” she smirked, “but the road to everlasting fire is paved with cliches and euphemisms.”
Hell is a place where what you least desire becomes eternally yours, or so we were told as children, well not us, not the Jewish kids, for us Hell was our mothers’ finding that copy of Playboy we stole from our father’s stash our mother didn’t know about, and which he would deny, throwing us under the bus or any large vehicle she found
If we buy into Hell, and given that ours is an aging population, many of whom have landed in Florida and Arizona to avoid the winters that are hell on the ubiquitous arthritis, and all those who have joyously consumed the evangelical Kool-Aid, when the final bell rings, they may be surprised to discover there is far, far more of a chance of a snowball in Hell.
It is an ungainly beast and its cry, as much a bleat as a roar, can pierce the air and is never easily ignored. There are far larger to be found, and far more beautiful. Some have voices that melt anger incite passion, alleviate pain. Some sing in a register so low touch and hearing are merged. Even this beast has its smaller kin, gentler, if not ever soothing, happy to fill a room, not a universe. But the great beast has always known its place, held in the arms of and cradled informal procession, carried forward into battle by the so-called Ladies from Hell.