2017 Rhysling Nominated Poems

Short poem category: “Stellar Quake,” New England Journal of Medicine, Sep 2016

Long poem category: “Adam’s Rendezvous with Dante,” Last Darn Rites Anthology (Whitesboro Writers, eBook), Dec 2016

Adam’s Rendezvous with Dante

When I was eight hundred years old
I dreamed a dream and saw visions.
I tagged along with a fellow named
Dante and his poet guide. I listened

to him and Virgil rant about a place
they called Inferno, but it looked more
like a junkyard dump. I had to run
from a three-headed dog in the third

part of hell and slip into the back
of the boat crossing the river Styx
to the nether parts. And then again
I ran, this time from the Minotaur

guarding the seventh gate, wherein
there flowed the Phlegethon—a river
of boiling blood. I heard splashes,
saw pitchforks plunged into bobbing

sinners who dared to poke their heads
above the hot and roiling waves.
Their heads would pop like bubbles,
collapse into the turbulence, the violence

against humanity gushing there.
I whimpered, Where is my son?
The one who killed my Abel?
How deep has he sunk?

Dante said to me, Murderers
of lords and kings and kin,
have been condemned
to the frozen stench below.

When I reached the icy wasteland
—last of nine godforsaken hells—
I found no Cain. There was no fire
except from the burning cold.

I peered into the abyss, for a moment
only saw the leathery warp of wings,
heard the whoosh of frigid wind, and
the anguish, the weeping & gnashing

of teeth, and I saw the three faces
of Lucifer masticating the treacherous,
the traitors—gore of Judas mixing
with the devil’s tears. But I rubbed

my eyes and saw no vile beast
wearing red-handled underwear
nor wielding a three-pronged pitchfork.
Instead, I saw an empty place

lit only by a dim glow from the
baby-faced man with soft blue eyes
wearing a garment full of gems.
He only feathered his angel wings.

Out of the darkness, its voice,
Adam! Adam! Why dost thou vilify me?
I simply offered you knowledge
of the gods. And I said, Sure you did,

just as you seduced my wife with gold
& silver fruit—no savor, only bitterness
of truth, the acid taste of evil.
And I… I could only see its glitter.

But it was you who killed my two sons.
The devil looked up at me
from the bottom of the pit, a blaze
in his eyes showed his countenance.

I gaped at the paltry sight and said,
Is this the man who plagued the world?

It merely leered.