by Joseph Stroud
Guidavaci una voce che cantava
di là; e noi, attenti pur a lei,
venimmo fuor là ove si montava.
Purgatorio XXVII, 55-57
Mid-September, 5:00 a.m., still night outside,
I hear the garbage truck grinding down my street.
I’ve been thinking of a poet who is dying in New York,
how these days she reads her beloved Dante,
perhaps looking for something to frame
what is happening to her.
And whom, I wonder, do I turn to?
Whom in this century do I read
as if my life depended upon it?
The garbage truck stops at my driveway.
Two men are arguing, or laughing,
I can’t tell,
as they empty the can and drop it onto the street.
There are some who believe the poem can be a guide,
a Virgil, can be a window into a way of being.
Do I believe this? Does anyone believe this anymore?
My dying friend is reading a poem that speaks of love
as a fire, as a wall of flame the body must pass through.
The truck continues down the block.
Lights are coming on in the houses.
It’s almost day. People are getting ready for work.
TVs are on. Radios are on.
I can hear more garbage being emptied
and then a can clanging onto concrete.
I’m thinking of my dying friend,
of Dante who says our life is a passage,
how a voice sings beyond the flame,
guiding us, how we must pass through the fire
if we are to begin the ascent.
"Passage" by Joseph Stroud, from EVERYTHING THAT RISES by Joseph Stroud, copyright © 2019 Copper Canyon Press. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press.