Thursday, February 7, 2013





a trilogy



by Shelley Berc


published in Plays for the End of the Century, Bonnie Marranca, Editor





The characters:


Dante-- a girl who is a professional ghostwriter

Virgil-- a worm/the mouth of reason

Beatrice--the body and soul of love, an adolescent boy

Illuminated Manuscript--animate figures that make up a book of     illuminations

Hell Choir


Behind a scrim there is an image of a huge illuminated manuscript, very medieval, only that the one big letter in it, D, is composed of human bodies, the Figures of the Illuminated Manuscript.

A girl wearing Dante's classic hood comes out on stage. She is holding a Japanese calligraphy brush that is so large it could be mistaken for a broom. Center, there is  a large board , sometimes white, sometimes black, sometimes transparent  on which the girl Dante can write thoughts and map out her journey. Behind her, above the 'human illumination' is a ticker tape-like marquee and it starts to print out:

            Midway through my life's journey

            I found myself in a dark wood

            For the straight way was lost to me.


A huge burst of raucous laughter from the girl.

A few bars of Gregorian chant from the Hell Choir.

The people making up the letter D come apart.

A subway map in which the various stops have the names of the circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno has replaced the scrim illumination image. The specific circles light up when the girl Dante enters them on her journey through hell. For right now, the map simply glows a ghoulish green. The girl Dante comes forward with her calligraphy brush. It looks like she's sweeping the floor with it but she's really writing the text we see come up on the marquee.



My name is Dante.  I'm a ghost writer and I'm here to write the


 Stories of the dead, in their own words, the vulgar tongue.

            (DANTE sticks out her tongue at the audience. She takes a mirror out of      her pocket, she blows on it, and she glares in it.)

No sight of myself. No breath. I'm a ghostwriter in the world of the dead. I write in disappearing ink. Its hell.


            (She laughs and scribbles maniacally all over the board)


                                                HELL CHOIR(SINGING)

                        love brought me here

                        love left me here

                        love put these words in my mouth

                        these dead stars in my eyes.




 I remember a girl I knew once....

She was beautiful, young

She wore a crimson dress...

She never noticed  me

I loved her

She's dead.


                                    BEATRICE (VOICE OVER, HER PHYSICAL PRESENCE                                                    INDICATED BY LIGHT)

*The day was now departing. The dark air released the beings of earth from their labors and I alone stood awake and made ready for the journey. O memory that suffered it all in, help me set down what it is that I heard and saw.


                                    DANTE(AS IF BY ROTE)

 *Midway through my life's journey

I found myself in a dark wood

for the straight way was lost to me.

I cannot really say how I entered the wood,

I was very tired when I gave up the  path.

But when I reached the bottom of the hill, there

at the end of the valley that had caused me so much fear,

I looked up and saw the sun.


            (DANTE uncloaks her face)





 Beatrice:  whom she loved all her life, who never knew she existed, who died not caring she existed. Leaving Dante to a long, miserable, and lonely life. An exile from life.





transparent to the one I love,

thrown out of my country,

 exiled in absentia, on pain of death.

Never to go home again,

 never  to live anywhere again. Not even as a memory.


                                    BEATRICE (who has been painting his nails)

 She was an exile of her country and an exile of love. These two elements together made her a natural  chronicler of hell.



Beatrice's nails cut slashes in the scrim that define abstracted letters in the Illuminated Manuscript. These letters bleed like a whipped back until they obliterate themselves. The Figures of the Illuminated Manuscript adjust the lights on the map until it looks like a stargazer's chart of the constellations.          



Grief is a map you can chart your heart and soul on. Here is where she never looked at me, here is where she kissed another, here is where she died without my name on her lips--Beatrice.


The Figures form the letter I on the illuminated manuscript. Ticker tape neon reads off: I for innocence, ignorance, insensitive, insatiable, inspirational, insipid, insidious, infernal. The translucent manuscript opens up like a book to reveal another place-- the red and black brush strokes, dots, lines and shadows of a prehistoric cave painting.





                                    DANTE (VOICE OVER)

I was continuing my journey up the barren slope, when suddenly a leopard appeared before me. He stopped in his tracks and blocked my way. Many times I thought to turn back. But it was sunrise--the hour of the day for hope....



The Illuminated manuscript creatures form the letter V. The ticker tape neon reads off against an elaborate back lit illumination--V for vast, vain, Vancouver, vortex, vacuous, voracious.



*Then a mountain lion appeared before me, raging with hunger.

And all my hope was lost in fear. *


The Figures of the illuminated manuscript make the letter I.



I again-insistent, illegitimate, invigorating, idiotic, internal, intellectual, inferno....

*Then came a she-wolf . She seemed to carry every hunger known to man in her starved  carcass. She pushed me back, to where the sun is silent. *


                                    IMAGE OF BEATRICE APPEARS UPSTAGE



My friend who is not the friend of fortune has been turned back by fear.


                                    MEMBER OF HELL CHORUS

But love sent reason to teach the girl, dante, how she might live without love, that is--how she might survive among the dead.



And Beatrice sent her Virgil the worm, the voice of reason to eat her holy heart out. To take her down, among the hidden things.






If you want to get past the beasts that prey, you'll have to go another way. Follow me. Let me be your eyes in the dirt; let me eat a hole in your heart that will become your sight and with it you will see hell, purgatory and paradise.



So the girl dante, bereft of home and vacant of love followed the giant worm, the voice of reason, into a hole in the ground. They descended into the blind world--    




                                    SONG OF HOMELESSNESS

                        No home

                        No country

                        No love

                        No property

                        No phone calls

                        No friends

                        No future

                        No end



The girl dante is walking through the valley of death with her heaven sent guide, Virgil the worm, the voice of reason whose mission it is on pain of love to eat her heart out and while she's walking here and now, she's also sitting, hunched over ' back then'-a wandering scribe, a middle aged monk in the middle ages illuminating a divine comedy by brush and hand. Now he is scripting the letter E,  E for exile.



Sure... obviously.  Why would she even be on this trip if she had a country, a home, a love, a purpose? Why would she do this if she had anywhere else to go?  Her home is  this elaborated letter-- E--for exile. She sleeps in its shade, raids its garbage bins at night. She eats her pride and she knows she's supposed to feel better.



So the girl dante tries not to think of home. The thought of home makes her sick--home/sick.



But sometimes home thinks of me

It asks me:

Where have I been?

Why don't I write or call?

Where am I going?

 And for how long?


The Figures of the Illuminated Manuscript form the letter E. The neon lights up with the word 'exile' that then bleeds into the letters spelling out the D-I-V-I-N-E COMEDY. The letters now look as if they are attached in space like a map of the heavens joining one star to the next to create the outlines of mythological sky figures--the lion, the leopard, the wolf, the whale, the serpent of the seas.



*You shall leave everything you love most dearly behind. This is the arrow that  exile shoots first. You shall come to depend on the salt in another's bread.

This shall become the way of your sustenance. But what will weigh you down most will be the senseless company you must keep on your journey.



E can only mean one thing--Exile. To be cut off from country or home by free choice or force. To be absent from country or home by free choice or force. To be separated from the realm of human intercourse, to be made alien from love, honor, contact of the most tenuous sort with the familiar, the known, the trusted, the believed or the beloved. To be unable to return to country or home or love or to ever know again what country or home or love can mean. And so, in this moment, there is stasis or there is journey. Either way, at this juncture, there is unmitigated pain.



The wandering monk scribe of middle ages points to the illuminated circles, where a gold leafed version of herself lives in passionless vellum. The girl dante points to herself the scribe who is in fact the very home that is sick of her and she cries. Her tears bleed over the elaborated pages and they come alive.




"Let me tell you about the circles of hell" says the scribe who is wandering in the painted words to the girl dante who is wandering in no-where. A circle is perfect-- a space with no way in and no way out. You just go round and round and round.


                                    HELL CHOIR (AS A  ROUND)

                        A circle is 

                                    a globe

                                     a hole

                                    a bubble

                                    a fist

                        A circle is

                                     a globe

                                     a hole

                                    a bubble

                                    a fist



The girl dante, who is drifting nowhere because she is in exile and thinks she is dead, wants to go back to the middle ages, because she is sure that she is this wandering scribe, this middle aged monk- man in a world of miracles, in which the miraculous was more real than truth, in which a series of visual allegories leaded in stained glass or pressed into a book of illuminations or painted in frescoes on ecclesiastical walls were the true reality.  She was headed back there, returning from mission when she got lost and became a road kill on the map of earthly love.



 A casualty of bad directions.



When suddenly...  the leopard, the lion, the she-wolf...


An illumination of a medieval bestiary appears on the scrim, including many of the animals, real and imaginary, from the Divine Comedy. Though clearly medieval, the images are a bit reminiscent of Las Vegas slot machine symbols. The Figures of the Illumination do a series of iconic hand gestures that are a cross between medieval gestes--the gesture for truth, for forgiveness, for prayer, for charity-- and modern day rap poses.



 The girl dante steps into the middle ages, an immobile scribe in the grips of illumination. "It's like water," she marvels, "the way you test it first, step by step, until the only thing left is to freeze or jump in."



As she enters the illumination of the scribe she is, she sees the circles of hell he is painting are named, just like the destinations on her subway map--the circle of gluttony, the ring of treachery, the terrace of cowardly  fear. These circles catalogue every bad doing, every horrid thought, every evil coincidence known to man. The girl dante is sure that somewhere among the specificity of these names and their doings, this is where she will find love. Where she will no longer be in exile.  She's sucked into image after image, circle after circle. She can't find his way out of these circles. She pulls free of one, only to be dragged into another one.



Wait a minute. Time to get our bearings. The way I see it, I’m still in a dark wood. My guide Virgil the worm, the voice of reason is beside me. We're reading our map to hell

 (dante takes out her flashlight. Virgil becomes a sock puppet on dante's hand while at times he also appears upstage as the giant worm. The lights go up on the neon subway stop map. Dante turns to read it.)

so we can figure out which way to go....Now, if the main objective in visiting hell is to get out of it and thereby escape the exile that brought you to it, this means taking the road that leads to home which is, as everyone knows, where the heart is, which is being being eaten away so that one can survive the journey through. Where then, if the heart disappears, does the traveller end up?


            SONG OF THE TOURIST attractions of the                                       CIRCLES OF HELL


                        the faithless but virtuous



                        misers and wasters

                        the angry and the sullen

                        the violent against others

                        the violent against themselves

                        the violent against God and Nature









                        sowers of discord

                        evil impersonators


                        false witnesses




It could take a lifetime to see it all!


                                                DANTE(WEEPING, PARALYZED)

I remember a girl I knew  once....

She was beautiful, young

She wore a crimson dress...

I loved her. She's dead.


                                                VIRGIL(PUSHING DANTE)

Let's get going.





You can't stay in limbo forever.



Time to sink or swim.


            THE CROSSING OF THE RIVER ACHERON TO HELL'S GATE                            is announced on the scrim.

The Figures of the illuminated manuscript sweep across the stage with sextants lifted up in their arms like oars, paddling the sky. The sound of black, bottomless water. Emphysymic breathing. The red eyed glower of  the boatman Charon draws the Figures aboard.



I did not speak again until we came to the river. There an old man was shouting at us "Welcome home, damned souls. Forget your hope of ever seeing heaven--I come to take you to hell."  And so we followed the thousands of souls traveling over the dark waters. Even before we had reached the other shore, new hoards stood ready on the bank to make the regrettable journey in which their own obsessions urge them on, turning their fear turn into desire--the desire to go to hell.

                                    SONG OF THE GATE OF HELL

                        *Through me is the way to the city of suffering

                        Through me is the way to eternal pain

                        Through me is the way to the lost people

                        Abandon all hope ye who enter here.




Here sighs and screams, cries and lamentations resonated against the starless sky.



Here you must leave behind all fear, all hesitation, or else the pilgrim will not survive.


                                    HELL CHOIR

*A wind cracked through the tear-drenched earth

a wind that rose with a blood red light

a light that overwhelmed all my senses

and I fell like a man struck dead.


                        LIGHTS UP ON THE SUBWAY STOP:

                                    THE CIRCLE OF LUST


Two figures sit watching tv--its obvious that it is a soap opera. The text is in Italian without any subtitles, but we understand the situation all too well. We hear the sounds of deep kisses, ala movie close ups; the magnified filmic sighs of lovers. It is unclear if the sounds are coming from the television or the two people watching it.

 The scrim reveals a list of famous obsessed couples of history:

            paris and helen

            antony and cleopatra

            tristan and isolde

            lancelot and guinevere

            paolo and francesca.

This entire segment is underscored by relentless winds. Around the two characters entwined in front of the television, two Figures move in a circle of unstoppable frenzy, trying to touch, trying not to touch, trying to escape,chasing and never catching each other, over and over in the long wind.

                                    THE SONG OF PAOLO AND FRANCESCA

                        why are we in hell for loving

                        what kind of loving is hell

                        how can loving be hell

                        why doesn't the wind stop

                        why when I touch you am I not touching you

                        where is the earth gone

                        where has comfort gone

                        why won't the wind stop?


                                    BEATRICE (LAUGHING)  

*Love that can suddenly seize the tender heart

Love that releases no loved one from loving

Love that led the two of them to one death.


Love, the hurricane of Hell.


            Virgil as a weather man prophesying on a chart that is  a pictorial diagram of the human heart mapped out like a weather map, with wind currents, cold fronts, clouds, radar predictions.



*This hurricane of hell never stops

The wind whips them here, whips them there.

There's no hope of rest nor respite from suffering.



  Ah! How many sweet hopes led them to this end .



The girl dante has problems with this story of hell she's driven to ghost write. She thinks obsessive love is the quintessential love, an umbilical of love from which she is cut off. She thinks of the dead Beatrice whom she never even kissed,  the girl at the altar in the crimson dress, with the cold lips, who never raised her eyes in greeting, who never said "Hello, how are you, today?" And dante feels, she feels jealous of Paolo and Francesca, those two souls lost in the perpetual hunger of their love.


I love these lovers. I love that they'd rather be in hell together than apart. I love that they don't even know their own volition, their own siamese twin hearts.

I love how they think something is making them suffer other than themselves-

something that is out of their control. I love the way they fly around in circles--I love all the wretched circles, these circles of hell that we go down inch by inch like a wishing well.





Watch yourself in the middle ages, a phantom of some other self at his stool, hunched over his parchment and ink. Hermit. Recluse. Where are you, lost in your labors, in your magnificent concentration? Are you ghost writing or are you lying?  Illuminating the letters--G for gluttony, F for fraud, P for pride. You are sure your beautiful elaboration of words shall give them more weight, more meaning, that is: more reason for being, that is: more credibility in place of honesty.



The letters are so intricate--so full of demons and snakes that the written script is only legible to the initiate. For example--are the letters letters or some form of new number--algebraic, perhaps.  Or are the letters pictures of the events of history--the laborer and the lady, the lord and  the manor, the monk in the scriptorium?  Or are the letters he is making circles, the concentric globes of hell, funneling down to the depths of obsession. Look! Hidden in the tapestry of script, the gold leaf, the flowers, rabbits, sweet monkeys, the figures of the naked--a man and a woman.  What is it--picture or letter, abstraction or story?



dante the girl is weeping. From Virgil the worm the mouth of reason who is eating her heart out with reason so called. Objectivity is an algebraic thing--symbols of abstraction when unapplied to the living reality. But she wants...the heart wants....



Listen to me, dante girl. Follow how I see. Then you'll stop crying.


                        VIRGIL AND DANTE JOURNEY



And so the girl dante spits on them, Paolo and Francesca and when she spits them out, it will be as the ghost story of their own self loathing which never did exist except in her own ghost writer's envy.



But I can't stop crying. Why am I crying when I want to be spitting?



 Remember a girl you knew once....

She wore a crimson dress..



We only met 3 times

Nine years apart

3 times 3

3 squared

x to the power of z

I loved her



She's dead.




 She never noticed me.

She's dead.

Oh lucky Paolo and Francesca.


                                    VIRGIL(DRAGGING DANTE)

From lust we descend to gluttony. It’s a natural progression from the place where you can never get enough to the circle where you're stuffed.


The Hell Choir is dining on human hearts, tossing them up in the air like flapjacks. The Figures of the Illumination make up Cerberus, the dog with three heads. The choir sings behind the dog figure. A gigantic puppet representation of Cerberus lumbers on stage. The sound of hard rain is heard.


                                    HELL CHOIR

                        I love to eat

                        I love to eat

                        I love to eat.

                        Love to consume, chew up, inhale, slurp, masticate, taste,                             tear, gulp, devour.



Rain. Suffering has confused me. I see new torments wherever I set my eyes. I am in the third circle filled with cold filthy rain. The earth, as it receives this downpour stinks.




Over the souls of the drowning--the Dog, Cerberus reigns.

His three throats growling, his three maws foaming.

His eyes red as blood, his enormous belly bulging

as he tears them up, one by one.



The girl dante knows it is a sin to eat. That the holier the girl the more starving. This will help her write the cautionary tale of the gluttonous, in the glory of her famished anonymity, through the pores of her see-through body, the horror story of the hungry heart.


dante is semi-devoured by the beast with the three throats and obscured by the hands that are stuffing these throats. Cerberus is singing...


                        more more more more more more more.



Sometimes I know I do not exist. That I am a ghost and that these dead souls are the living. That's why everyone thinks I'm some Italian guy from the middle ages. I have made myself into an Italian guy from the middle ages and I have made everybody believe it so I won't exist because if I do exist with my loud mouth that is not the mouth of the worm virgil, the voice of reason, it is clear that one of those guys will kill me which I do not want because I know how you can be tortured to death by the dead.  I'd rather be dead to begin with.




Oh, be reasonable (the hand puppet starts hitting Dante over the head)


A fight ensues between Cerberus and Virgil who rescues Dante by sucking him out of the monster's mouth with a vacuum.                                



Escape is something I'd stake my life on. Escape from every temporary home, each passing love, all promises. Escape is the challenge of the consumer in the infernal shopping mall. To emerge a hero is to return home empty handed. It's true--no matter what they say or what the sales, do not buy any of it.


                                    LIGHTS UP ON SUBWAY STOP:

                        THE AVARICIOUS AND THE WASTEFUL.



My name is dante. I'm telling you this again because while I know that my words are disappearing ink, I think maybe my voice is disappearing, too. That you will forget who I am or never know who I am or think I'm really someone other than I am while I keep fading away. The wasteful and the avaricious, tied together forever here, have hired me to ghost write their stories. But they criticize my style, my ideas; they tell me I am writing in a dead language that no one ever reads. Well, what the hell do they expect?



Who has gathered together so many strange tortures as I have seen?

Justice of God.

Why do we let our guilt consume us so?



*Crowds pressed on every side of me,

With their chests they push the giant grinding wheels

Over and over, they slam against each other, screaming

" Why do you waste? Why do you save?"

For all eternity they'll come to blows

those with their fists clenched tight,

those squandering their silver and gold....

excess has robbed them both of this sweet world.


                                    VIRGIL(THE HAND PUPPET)

What shall we do today? Shall we go to Bergdorfs, shall we go to Bloomingdales? I know you don't like Saks. Don't waste your dime on that beggar in the street--if you put your money in his hand you'll get a life threatening disease.  He should know it's better to give than to receive.



This an update on the states of sin which seem to be growing:

            the sin of poverty

            the sin of homelessness

            the sin of extreme need


                                    CHOIR AND BEATRICE IN A HALLELUJAH                                                   CHORUS

                        the sin of needing help

                        the sin of asking for it

                        the sin of liberalism

                        the sin of helplessness

                        the sin of not having it all

                        the sin of wanting too little

                        the sin of being too old

                        the sin of not being tough enough

                        the sin of idealism  

                        the sin of loving too much.



We think about love a lot, here in hell--love of the body, love of the mind, love of money love of poverty love of greed love of love. We think about these things all the time. love love love



We watch the creatures suffer in their love, too much, too little, wrong headed, dizzy, perverse. we would sympathize with them if we had any heart left with which to feel--



But we do not.  We have ascended to tough love.



I knew a girl once, I loved her, she barely noticed me. I'm glad she's dead. How horrible it is not to exist for the one you live for.


                                                VIRGIL (GRABS DANTE)

Eat your heart out, baby!


            DANTE AND THE WORM VIRGIL FALL TO THE FLOOR, ROLLING          OVER AND OVER, COPULATING AS VIRGIL'S VOICE OVER REPEATS: Eat your heart out, baby, eat your heart out baby, eat your, eat your, eat your...


The City of Dis appears on the scrim. It is a combination of illuminated letters, urban abstractions, and negatives of photographs of cities. It looks both elaborate and bombed out--ultra modern and medieval.


                                                BEATRICE (VOICE OVER)

So it was that they arrived inside the deep cut trenches that are the moats of this despondent land.



I found myself upon the verge of an abyss, a melancholy valley of unending tears.



  Round about now the girl dante and the worm of reason virgil are sick to hell of hell. Every sinner wants to confess his or her story like its for the cover of People magazine. The circles of wrath, vengeance, usury, treachery--all their inhabitants have one thing in common--they want to tell all.





 Ugolino, a father who ate his own children, insists we put in all the grisly details of the act.  "I'm a new man after this experience" he declares. "I used to care only about my career. Now I'm a devoted family man. It will vindicate me, he says, if you write it right.



No one in hell is as much in hell as this girl who’s supposed to tell everybody else's story while she, herself, is doomed to invisibility. No one in hell is as much in hell as the girl dante whose heart is scheduled to disappear, bit by bit as the worm of reason feeds.




There are times she just can't take it anymore-- the foreordained anonymity of the ghost writing life--there are times when she loses the will to transcribe--to speak the questions, to record the answers of the damned. At such times her mouth is wide open but not a sound comes out--and in her breath as it hits the infernal frozen air--she sees her scribe in his illumination, hunched over, all alone writing:

            "Murder? theft?  over eating? incest? After awhile, what's the difference?"

            After awhile, in the universal equation of time and relativity, they're all the `           same thing."



 Circle after circle --we're all creatures of habit and the habits of the circles of hell make the girl dante feel at home. So she adapts to every evil they hold. None of it looks so bad, foreign or boring anymore. The scribe is drawing the flames of fury from out the mouths of the wrathful and meticulously furrowing the brows of the sullen. The girl is so absorbed in the drawing that she can't see she's stuck in the mud that is the sin of anger, or that the city of Dis is impenetrable, that she can't even get across the river Styx.



Learn to crawl, dante girl. Learn to crawl. On your belly and knees and tongue learn to wriggle through hell's walls.



And so the girl dante learned to swim through the mud and crawl through the rocks of hell. Sometimes she would stop to build herself a model of revelation.


The Figures of the Illuminated Manuscript carry on a pyramid of miniature architectural blocks.  The girl dante takes the blocks from them and puts them on a table made of their backs. With these blocks, she will construct the city of Dis, while an ominous blow up shadow of it appears on scrim.



On every side, the steep and filthy hole trembled so that I thought the universe felt love which some say is the cause of all chaos.


                                                VIRGIL (pointing to the subway map of hell on                                                      the scrim)

Here we have treachery --look how crooked, just like a medieval street.  Here's the public works of grand theft and the cafes of petty larceny, the neighborhoods of fraud simple and fraud compound, the public squares of greed, the bus stops of lust. And here, the great waterway of civilized life--the boiling river of blood where every person who has done violence to another is drinking...and burning up.


                                                SUBWAY STOP:

                                    THE CIRCLE OF VIOLENCE:


                              SONG OF THE SINNERS OF VIOLENCE


                        VIOLENCE TO ONES SELF: SUICIDES AND SELF MUTILA-                       TORS.

                        VIOLENCE TO DIVINE SPIRIT AND NATURE.                                                 TRAITORS TO THE SPIRIT OF LIFE.


                        ILLUMINATION: Violence to Ones Neighbor



*Thousands of Centaurs guard these sinners, with human faces and horses' hooves. Their arrows take down any soul that raises his head above the blood any more than his guilt deserves.


            (The Figures as centaurs, in their hands are measuring compasses that      serve as spears)




                                                SONG OF WRATH

                        to rape

                        to pillage





 bad mouth blow up burn scourge rip off run over gas knife break crush torture brainwash brain dead, erase . . . erase...erase.



The violence of the conqueror is greatest when he assures that not only the bodies of the conquered are dead but all historic memory of them is erased. So completely erased, that even the most experienced ghost writer cannot dig it up.


                                    TAPED VOICES (SHARP, DEMANDING, UNCTUOUS)




The girl dante, the ghost writer, is in hell because she is an (unwilling) exile from the love of man-kind. The girl dante, the ghost, is in hell, because she is unable to operate in the community of man-kind. She even has grave sinner thoughts that such a thing as man-kind doesn't exist. The worm virgil the mouth of hell-reason says she must prove herself now: "Prove yourself," says he "if you prove yourself to me you'll be a hero." But nothing she proves is ever enough. Everything she ghost writes falls through the cracks-- the fissures of hell that swallow all true things and say they aren't loud enough, aren't logical enough, aren't important enough, aren't enough enough. The girl dante believes in hell, that she'll never believe in herself again. What for, if she can't prove it?





The girl dante, the ghost writer, tries to find her proof in the figure of the scribe in the circle of wrath he has brought her to. She shakes the moats and ditches of hell looking for him who brought her here, who has disappeared. She's alone in the seventh circle. There are no more alphabetical bestiaries, no more allegorical demons in her way, only a mutilated forest to trip her up-- an arboretum of suicides.


                                    Subway Stop:

             Violence to Ones Self: the forest of suicides

             the illuminated dance of the suicide trees


                                    SONG OF THE SUICIDES

                        *no green leaves in the forest, only black…

                        no trees straight and smooth, only knotted and gnarled…

                        no fruits here, just briers bearing poison.



The girl dante thinks she can die for love. She's dead already, poor thing. Her worm eaten heart, her cynical turn of mind. She's choked herself on bitterness and despair, on the words 'if only', the phrase 'what might have been' in what's left of her grieving heart.


                                                STATEMENT OF THE SUICIDES

Once we were human beings and now we are bloody stumps searching for the flesh we gave up. So we drag our bodies here to hang in this sad wood, each on the stump of its vindictive shadow.


                                                DANTE (CARVING PICTURES IN to HER SKIN)

The girl dante the ghost writer is dead in hell, double dead again. She feels redundant. She wants to walk through her afterlife, a horseman without her head. The girl dante has killed herself many many times but somehow still she isn't dead. But she's a ghost anyhow, which is why she wants to be as dead as she feels. This is how she gives up writing, all manner of writing, even ghost writing. She walks in the footsteps of the medieval scribe she sees illuminating in her mind. But he doesn't provide any relief. All he can draw is the ins and outs of a calligraphraphic hell, a maze of doctrine and reasoning.



The scribe walks up and down the scriptorium of the dead. This pacing is like tracing words on paper, he thinks. Endless as air his shuffle, carving out the illuminations from the dust, like after thoughts. Thought he believes is the true exile as it wanders from place to place, thrown out of one brain only to roost in another.

He walks between the burning scrolls that make up the letters, the language of hell: love, charity, honesty, humility, forgiveness. This is the language of hell.  Because. The scribe squeezes himself through the bright fire and the black night, the true eye of the needle. It is in that emaciated corridor that the scribe alone can read the Book of Life in Hell.


                                    SUBWAY STOP:

                                    THE VIOLENT AGAINST GOD   


FIGURES OF THE ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT: the dance of the wretched hands, who can't stop beating their fists against the nothingness upon which the image the deity.


                                                SINGERS OF HELL

                        The dance of wretched hands is never done

                        the cha cha cha of destruction in the name of God, the Almighty.

                        The violent dance against the dream of cosmos.


The dance of the hands turns into a dance of equations elaborating the relative gravity of various evils, using algebraic symbols of greater and less than and equals. The ticker tape subway screen lights up with names of man made and natural disasters and their graphic equivalencies on the sin scale. These include: THE BURYING OF POMPEII AND HERACULEUM BY THE ERUPTION OF MT.VESUVIUS. THE DROPPING OF THE ATOMIC BOMB ON HIROSHIMA. THE GREAT LONDON FIRE. WORLD WARS I AND II, THE SAN FRANCISCO EARTHQUAKE, TIANNEMAN SQUARE, AIDS, BOSNIA, FLOOD, FAMINE, PLAGUE, POLITICAL TORTURE.



Dear God:

I know from my readings of the Good Book that a state of grace is one in which there is no spiritual deficit--

How do we know when we are in this grace state?

Do you know it because you feel at peace?

How do you know you're not just sleeping?

Do you know it because your own deeds have made you feel good about yourself?

How do you know you're not just self righteous?

Do you know it because you feel no guilt, no remorse?

Maybe you're just amoral.

How do you know you're doing the right thing

when nature no longer controls anything?

How do we know what is just

 when there are so many possibilities?

How do we know what is wrong

if the context is always changing?

How do we know famine is wrong

if there are too many people, too little planet?

How do we know that a forest fire is bad

if that's the way a wilderness regenerates itself?

How do we know the line over which we cannot step

and still live with ourselves?

And how do we judge love if it is, as you suggest, the principle of life

when that principle causes such great devastation?

How do we judge it, put it on trial when you say it is the absolute numeral--

the point from which we must begin all our mathematical gymnastics.

I put the concepts here:




good deeds

good thoughts

good intentions


and I put the numbers here--

100,000 dead of  flood and quake in one year

 10 million infected with deadly disease in a decade

 50 million dead of starvation

  70 million dead in wars

how do we judge

when I can't balance your books of atrocity?



                                                AND NOT A GUY?



dante is a girl because she is in love with someone who does not know who she is.

dante is a girl because outside her beloved she is not supposed to exist.

dante is a girl because having no culture of her own she is a thief.

dante is a girl because she believes she is invisible.

dante is a girl because she believes if she's not invisible then she better be.


                                    (BEATRICE VANISHES)



Everywhere she goes she believes she'd better disappear. She should hide herself and send out her letters of the dead and people reading them will say, "it's so real it’s as if they were alive!" And the girl dante, though proud of her ghost writing skill wants to hang herself in a big way.  Because, she reasons, with the help of the worm mouth of reason--if my fate in life is not to exist except through the actions of others, then in fact, I don't really exist as an entity unto myself at all  which wouldn't be a problem except for living in this age of individualism  which everybody knows, in their heart of hearts, is too brutal selfish and immoral to ever  push civilization forward. But who can help the times they're born into or the sex? So it is left to the girl dante to retire, to lie back on the musty shelf of get lost and write her divine comedy in the white blood of a ghost. But she can't avoid committing the sin of envy. She's so full of envy for the souls of suicide who can at least turn against themselves.


                                                VIRGIL(THE HAND PUPPET)

And virgil makes  the girl dante take off the cord she keeps around her waist like a noose just in case she decides to hang herself. He makes  her take it off her waist and knot it and double knot it around her throat til she can barely breathe.. The girl dante thinks



How nice it feels not to have this rope so tight around my waist ! This rope by which I was hoping to hang myself.



Then the guide dropped the coiled and knotted twine to which the neck of the girl was attached; drops it into a ravine that has no end...see how the girl swings! And the worm said to dante--now there shall come  what your paranoia has sent.



Suddenly,  a creature so bizarre came climbing up upon my  hangman's rope. A giant beast with the body of a serpent, the tail of a scorpion, the wings of an eagle and the face of a dignified and honest old man.


The giant puppet Geryon flies across the stage. He has the face of a politician and the  body is of a reptilian monster. He gesticulates as if giving a stump speech, kissing babies, proclaiming victory. He leans into the audience in an attitude of extreme confidentiality.        



*Behold the beast with the dagger tail

who crosses mountains, shatters weapons and walls.

Behold the one whose stench fills the world!


"I'll save you, dante," the monster said, "I'll lend you a hand, save you from  strangulation, the final  deficit of the soul"


                                    VIRGIL (TO DANTE)

 He's our only way out. He knows the ropes.



He wears the face of a good man. But his body is the  body of a snake, with its venomous  tail quivering in the void. We mounted the back of the filthy beast whose name is  fraud.




                                    SUBWAY STOP :

                                    MALEBOLGE--THE CIRCLES OF FRAUD


                                                VOICE OVER

There is a place in hell called Malebolge,

  made all of rust but it looks like gold. Here


                                                MEMBER OF HELL CHOIR

The eighth circle: hypocrites, thieves, fraudulent advisers, sowers of scandal and schism, falsifiers of money, persons, words. Liars.



Here is punished all varieties of fraud, all forms of deliberate deceit. Here pity only lives when it's dead.


                                                SONG OF THE CIRCLE OF LYING

Ordinary fraud: panderers and seducers; those who live to make others love them so that they can hurt and abandon them; dealers of dreams lenders of flattery, heart stealers. mind fuckers. Their eternal punishment--to swim in their own shit.   



The bottom of this circle was so deep that no matter where we stood, we could not see it. I saw a swarm of snakes and among them  people were running naked, terrified, with no hope of hiding place or escape. Their hands were tied behind their backs by snakes and snakes wrapped around their loins. As I was watching, a serpent with six feet  gripped one soul's belly with its middle feet

and with its forefeet bound his legs, and with its back feet squeezed his head, then sank its fangs into his cheeks. The two heads became one, the snake head and the man's. Their bodies, just as if they were warm wax, stuck together, merged,  the serpent and the dead soul.  So that  they were neither man nor snake but both--man and snake in one, the Thief.




To take what is not yours without pretense of it ever belonging to you in the first place--simple theft.

To make what is not yours, yours, til everybody including you believes it is  yours-- complex theft.

To have everybody believing what is not yours  always was is and will be yours, including the person or persons you ripped it off from--truly sophisticated theft.

To be born  a girl:  because everybody knows that girls steal everything including history because they don't have one of their own--even Eve had to steal the apple which proves that although she may be responsible for original sin, she never had an original idea.



Matches, guns, sugar packets, socks, pieces of paper, food off your plate, your plate, money, thunder, ideas, ideals,  hearts, and kisses.


                                    THE PROFILE OF A THIEF

Someone who takes what is not hers. Women are the perfect thieves because  having no world of their own, they have to appropriate everything. Furthermore, girls are very good at  feeling  guilty and since feeling guilty must come from doing something guilty, they're probably at least thieves if not something worse. In addition, girls are known to have a talent for doing things in the most underhanded sneaky ways which is what makes them suit the definition of thieves so perfectly in the first place. It is as natural to them to lie and steal as it is for a fish to swim. A thief is half man, half snake because those are the two creatures woman stole from to make up herself. From man, she robbed the rib and from the snake, she stole the fruit of knowledge. So in fact, since a woman is a thief, she cannot even be a woman. The body and soul she has appropriated --the snake man is the only real live girl.



I don't want to steal, but I  can't help it--I started in a bastard tongue, a tongue ripped off from the loins of latin--that's Italian. The language of my origin  made me a thief. Virgil the worm, the mouth, of reason, squeezed the truth of it out of me, finally.




Wrapping myself around her, I rescued her from self delusion, which is the hope that  one is better than one knows she is. We continued our crawl down the ever descent.



 And what I saw below me still fills my heart with misery--the final morsel of it that the worm had not yet eaten.


                                    SUBWAY STOP:

                         FRAUDULENT COUNCILLORS



*As many fireflies as the farmer sees glimmering in the field at dusk, there where he gathers his grapes and tills his soil, so were the innumerable flames that blazed in the eighth abyss. Within these flames are souls. Clothed in the flames of their deceit, they are perpetually burned by these, their own clothes.



Fraud. A Webster’s definition thereof: 'to deliberately deceive; deception  planned and executed with intent to deprive another of his property or rights.'

Did the hero Ulysses who has been placed by Dante in this circle of sin, deliberately lie when he said to his men upon his return to civilization  "we are not animals, we are not meant to live the life of ignorance but to follow the unknown and make it knowledge. Neither love for my son, my father, or my wife he says,  could keep me home."  So he puts out to sea with a small crew.  They reach the Pillars of Hercules, which no man had ever dared pass beyond for that was surely where the world ended.



"Brothers" says Ulysses,  "we can't stop now.  Consider who you are, where you come from--you were made to pursue knowledge.



Five times  the moon light came and went over the empty sea, when suddenly there appeared in the distance, the highest  mountain  ever seen. We were glad to finally see land but all our joy soon turned to grief for a whirlwind blew out of that new earth. Three times it spun our craft around  and hurled it up until the fourth time, we  fell forever to the bottom of the sea.



I'm not blaming anyone but myself

I'm not blaming myself

I did not believe in the end of the world

I was  a pioneer--

A pioneer can only believe in frontiers.

I was trying to get to the truth.

Without heroes willing to exaggerate and lie

humanity would never even get out of bed.


            SUBWAY STOP: The ninth abyss of the eighth circle:

                        The Sowers of Scandal and Schism.





 Here  the damned are  perpetually tearing themselves in half and after they are healed, they tear themselves apart all again.



He was ripped down the middle, from chin to ass. In what agony he seemed to me; his tongue slit in his throat. Then another soul  passed with his  hands chopped off and lifting up his bloody stumps like hooves in the black air,  he talked and choked in the blood that was flowing from his own tongue. He said to me resignedly--"what's done is done" but I said  "your talk brought death to your own people, your own flesh and blood." Hearing this, he went away, howling like one gone mad in the pit of his sadness. Then I saw  the torso of a human body that walked just like a man and in its hand carried its cut off head, which the body used as a  lamp to find its way in the dark. The bodiless head spoke to me in passing, it said "because my talk divided father from son, I  must carry my mind cut off from its body."



                                    FINAL SUBWAY STOP IN HELL: 

                                    THE CIRCLE OF BETRAYAL



The circle of treachery--the sin of cold blood  at the bottom of the universe.


                                                HELL CHORUS

traitors to kin                                                                                       in cold blood

traitors to country                                                                               in cold blood

traitors to public interest for private profit                            in cold blood

traitors gnawing at each other in the frozen lake                            in cold blood

until they are too frozen to be dead.



Nimrod, the traitor to a common language.

Ugolino, the traitor of state  in the pit of hate, chewing eternally on a Cardinal's head--the Cardinal who sealed up his innocent children with him in a  tower so Ugolino could watch the only pure parts of himself starve to death.


                                    VOICE OVER OF A WEEPING MAN
I heard the door of the tower nailed shut and I looked at my three silent sons. I did not cry and so I turned to stone inside. When I saw hopelessness in my children's eyes, I bit my hands in grief. Seeing this, they thought I was hungry and begged me to eat their flesh as their reason said it was I who gave it to them. Oh, hard hard earth, why didn't you  open up then?  I saw them die, one by one by one. Then I gave myself, now blind, to groping over their bodies and calling them to eat as if they were alive, my mouth licking the salt off their flesh. Then my hunger  had more power than my grief.



When he finished his story, he went back to gnawing on the wretched priest's head, like a dog on his only  bone.



So we've arrived at  the final ring of the final circle of hell. The place reserved for traitors who betrayed those that  gave them sustenance, the violators of hospitality, of generosity, the advantage takers of those who sought nothing in return.  The sight of these traitors is sealed blind in their freezing tears. Here Lucifer chews ferociously on them. His three bottomless mouths full of Judas, Brutus, and Cassius.


                        THE DANCE OF THE MOUTHS OF SATAN




Do not ask me what happened to me here--I can't write it. All words fall short of what it was--I didn't die and yet I was not alive.

 What is it I've become, deprived of both death and life?


                                    THE SONG OF DEEP BETRAYAL

To deliberately make those love you who would not love you, whom you do not love.

To deliberately make those dependent on you who did not ask to be so.

To deliberately encourage love when you only mean to use.

To deliberately say it is for the good of the many when it is for the good of the few.

To deliberately and intentionally deceive until that deception destroys.

To justify the act of betrayal until promises mean nothing

Until you feel nothing

Until you only look like a human being

Until you are really only a dead soul in life.





He had three faces--one in the middle that was red as blood, one on the right that was as yellow as piss and one on the left, black as night. Beneath his faces a pair of wings spanned out--they had no feathers, but scales. They were like  bats' wings and when he beat them a constant bitter wind blew.  All Cocytus froze beneath this wind.



He cried out of his six eyes and down his three chins. The tears ran in a bleeding torrent and in each of his three mouths he tore apart a sinner as if he were a meat grinder instead of a fiend gnashing his teeth. I have no story for what I saw. What I saw and heard and felt there is beyond belief.



 For what she witnessed here, it would be a crime to be a ghost writer, at all.



Neither dead nor alive...                



dante, the girl ghost writer, has used up her pot of disappearing ink in the circle of betrayal. In their blood bath she sees her face, in their tears, her words dissolve.





The more rotten, the less avail is meaning, she thinks with her hand over the heart that is no more. I want my heart back.



It's too late, dante. Ym--mm good to the last drop.



Can you grow back a heart, the ghost girl wonders, grow it back like a starfish his limb? She wonders as she sits, paralyzed in the pit of hell. In the belly of Satan.



 The image of her monk appears. In the illumination, he's painting a story-- beautiful pigments, gorgeous shapes. He has made a home for himself here in  hell with the expansiveness of his cramped style. The picture he is illuminating is her  story, her  Comedy.  He's making her visible in and around the flourishes and details of a bestiary. Now in the intricacy. He draws her picture, he makes her appear.... the homeless cowled face. The creature she created....



 I left him there, illuminating. I had seen all I could see. I grabbed hold of the neck of my guide and we climbed down the massive, frigid body of Satan and when we reached the place where the hip joined the flank, we turned our bodies over. To my surprise, we were not upside down at all for we had passed the deepest  part  of this world and come out  the other side.  It was there that we emerged to see the stars in the sky again. Shining.


                                    END PART I: GHOSTWRITING THE INFERNO


                                    THE ART OF ILLUMINATION


                        PART II: A GIRL'S GUIDE TO THE DIVINE COMEDY





Dante-- a handsome monk/man who is played by/but doesn't     know/remember she's the girl dante

Beatrice--a transvestite porno star

Virgil-- a vacation home real estate agent

Forms and Singers, Angel of Humility


The stage set is evocative of a giant illuminated manuscript. Downstage, dante, dressed in monk's garb, holds the giant oriental calligraphy brush. Virgil, now a real estate agent for resort properties, and Beatrice, a transvestite porn star, stand at opposite sides, upstage.


                                          DANTE(VOICE OVER)

*To course across happier waters now

my talent's little vessel  lifts her sails

and sings of Purgatory, that second kingdom

in which the soul is purged of hell.



I am in Purgatory because I got used to Hell  and as soon as familiarity breeds contempt, it disappears. Purgatory however, shares a distinct resemblance to Hell--same  circles of sins, same class  of monsters and sinners but the rules are  different --here, there's a clause for escaping.




a remote island,  rich and  repentant

place of purgation

place of redemption


prime property

the investment chance of  a lifetime.

an opportunity bonanza for the well-heeled soul.



Purgatory is a relatively new addition to spiritual topography, historically speaking. Until the Middle Ages, it was just heaven and hell with nothing but life on earth in between.  One of Purgatory's primary functions was to save from Hell sinners belonging to specific social groups who were damned by the very nature of their work-- like usurers and blood-letters. Purgatory, by making the salvation of the money lender possible, contributed greatly to the birth and success of capitalism.




*The delicate hue of oriental sapphire in which the sky was steeped, restored my joy in seeing.

 I had left behind me the underworld of death. I was on the shores of Purgatory, the island where the soul can make amends.

            To this end, I not only became spirit made flesh--I  changed my sex.



Rejoice  dante! Now you  have the body of a man.  Thanks to my voice of reason, you have given up the desire to be a girl, that is--a ghost. By this action you have  certainly come up in the world.


                                                BEATRICE(THE  TRANSVESTITE  PORN STAR)

It is true: the girl dante, the ghost writer had become a handsome  man attired as a monk, for the modesty of his too firm flesh.


                                                DANTE(STUTTERING AND TOYING WITH                                                                                 HIS BRUSH)

This ascension business is difficult for me to understand. While I have a desire to be seen, I am not at all sure I wish to be seen like this.



Oh dante, love of my life only I didn't know it. If you want to be the hero of this tale, you have to be a boy because a girl can never come back alive from the dead. If a girl comes back at all, she's brain dead. Or she has no brain at all, only body; that is: she is invisible. This is not the route for a would be hero; an individual who can prove himself, who can be heard, has to be alive in this world and therefore a guy.



But  the monk scribe who is dante the ex-girl is thinking what for this struggle to get into Purgatory? A place where sins bleed into each other with no struggle, no fixed position, no hierarchy moral or otherwise.



That's democracy!



Where souls, unlike those in hell, are addicts of  change, sexwise and other-- making the whole purgatorial atmosphere of perpetual improvement volatile, or violent, or dangerous, or worse... a cosmos of fashion.

            Virgil--if I get volatile, I get violent. If I come off the shelf of my invisibility into this world of sin and redemption, I will do murder and a multitude of other heinous crimes that I merely write about now.



Then you will become a hero! Do not be afraid, for good or bad, every deed we do has its roots in love.





                                    LOVE THAT

                        Love that talks to me in my mind

                        Love that creates good and bad

                        Love that moves the heart to weep

                        Love that moves the mind to think

                        Love that makes love

                        Love that makes hate

                        Love that always talks to me.


                                     CHOIR MEMBER

*Then, in the distance, there was a heavy whoosh of wings.

Even as doves flocked together where they feed, will suddenly leave their food and fly away if they hear something that scares them, so the singers left their song behind, and turned away from the sea and towards the Mountain of Purgatory, like those who must go but do not know where.


The appearance of the Angel of Humility who crawls across the floor in a sanitary body bag. He has the longest finger nails in the world.



There appeared a light that crossed the sea so fast, no flight of bird could surpass it. From the light, a white shape.  But I did not know what it was. Then, my guide  recognized the Angel of Humility.






 SSHUSH, Dante--that's the angel who holds the keys to Purgatory. Humor him. He's a real mogul.



The angel who looks almost exactly like Howard Hughs at his most emaciated, paranoiac, and  reclusive, welcomes dante.


 He says climb, climb our stairs. dante, he says climb, climb our stairs.



The first step was white marble, so bright I could see my reflection there. The second step was crumbling rock, scorched and scarred and cracked. The third step,  massive, towering, was made of porphyry, as flaming red as any  blood that spurts from human vein.  Upon it stood the angel before the gate to Purgatory. I threw  myself at his feet, crying "Open, open to me".



 Have to register you first.


The Angel paints a series of snake like S's that resemble $dollar$ signs all over dante's body and on the scrim behind him. The S's shine like ghosts or old home movies through dante's body.





The S's stand for the seven deadly sins, which, more or less, mark every human.



I know I know. I got the scars-- Just gimme the goddamn keys.


The keys to Purgatory are enormous. dante places one under each of his arms. They are his crutches up the Mountain of Purgatory. At times he must carry his brush in his teeth.



Now you're talking. Enter herein--Purgatory! The place you and your loved ones can always  buy your way out of sin.



The spiritual perks of capitalism.





The angel with his calculator computes sinfulness. On the scrim various sins and their dollar value light up and are put on sale by the Angel of Humility. The Angel gets the cash and the sin gets erased.



As if an idiot didn't know what was what.           


                                                ANGEL(KISSING OFF EACH  OF HIS FINGERS)

pride,  envy, anger, sloth, avarice and prodigality, gluttony and lust, ad infinitum.



dante doesn't understand this language. Greek to me, he laughs. Greek to me. It’s confusing enough as it is having this man's body. And going back to his calligraphy, he thinks 'it doesn't matter what I understand, as long as I can reproduce what I see.'



Then it will all come out evenly and you can ascend spiritually.  God loves those who can balance the books at the end of the month.



And show a profit.



 Dante brushes a series of primary colors on the scrim, which obliterate a beautiful medieval illumination.



Sins to be obliterated in Purgatory, inclusive of but not limited to:

The Sins Against Humanity:

hunger, exploitation, violence, pride, treachery....



Hey, dante, if you ever want to get past the waiting room, shut your mouth and take up the golden keys.



Says the emaciated angel with the white, white teeth.



Then there are the sins against eternity:

equivocation of horror to horror

logic when it comes to the unthinkable

rationality when it comes to the irrational

bureaucracy when it comes to innocence

language when it comes to starvation

the sin of hiding and all its variations:

hiding from the poor

the hopeless

the different skinned

the different gendered

 the different thinking.

Hiding from violence

hiding from love,

from helplessness,

from change.






dante  follows the illuminated manuscript concocted by the monk/scribe she has become, the monk who hates her, body and soul. Things come out of dante's head transformed by the scribe's ink and stylus--the scribe who doesn't like her, who will never listen to a word she's saying--not in a million years, who knows the exact number of lines in  his paper and how the pigments must be crushed and how many characters shall fit upon and what size and hue each of the letters should be and what deserves illuminating.



See, dante. Purgatory is a very upwardly mobile place, where ambition holds the golden keys. Where a worm is not a worm, but a salesman of prime property. And the values keep going up, up, up, and the interest rates down. It's a sellers market. 



The boulders and trees of Purgatory all have my autograph--the D for Dante writ large and engraved with winged and gold leafed serapherim, the H for hero illuminated with illustrations of the great men of history. Dante is happy with his epitaph in Purgatory. He always hated being a ghost; that is--a girl.               


                        ILLUMINATION: THE PRIDEFUL.


                                    SONG OF PRIDE

                                    I can do everything

                                    I don't need anyone

                                    I will save everyone

                                    I will destroy the world

                                    Follow me

                                    No matter what

                                    I do or say



The general, the president, the king, the martyr, the teacher, the artist, the loud mouth, the fascist, the mother, the father. Look ahead, look at me. I'm all you can see. You don't need anyone but me--you will never have to be responsible for what you do, never to blame. I take that responsibility. In exchange, I take you.


                                                BEATRICE(STRIP TEASE)

*In the sky of pride,

Fame is a fickle wind

that blows now here, now there

and changes its name each time it has changes direction.


That man there who moves so slowly 

All the world once acclaimed his name--

and now they all say 'who?'

 Your fame wears the color of the grass

 that the sun brings up fresh and green;

 that same sun will set it withering.                                  



                                    THE CIRCLE OF ENVY REPENTING

In which the envious repentant sew each other’s eyes shut with barbed wire. dante is blindfolded just like the scales of justice. They twirl her around and around.                                               



Question: When is looking not seeing?



                                                BEATRICE(AS SHE SEWS CLOSED HER  OWN                                                                   EYES)

I know! I know!



Time's UP.








Here envy is punished. Iron wires sew up their eyes so they cannot see what their hearts really desire.



                                    THE SONG OF THE SIN OF ENVY REDEEMED                                            'JUST LOOKING'

                                                (as sung by the blind)

Transmitted over the hammers of the regentrification crews, through the scraping of the gardener's hoe against the subterranean terrace stones:

Just looking, just looking--

don't want to buy anything, just looking.

Looking out a lovely window onto a lovely park,

 as you stand safe and sound

behind the long silent glass

while minutes near there's another world, not so pretty

poor and broken, in violence you can't hear

except for the smooth vibrations carried

underfoot your orientals, overhead your security alarms


beneath the rumble of your immaculate children playing hopscotch.

Just looking. Looking.

The greatest sin for such as us is just looking.

We're just window shopping with our eyes snapped shut,

shutting out the different skinned

the different gendered

the different thinking

until just looking is just hiding

hiding from violence

hiding from fear

hiding from what you can't help and what you can.

Until just looking is inhuman.

We walk around like it's blind man's bluff

dizzy with our companion's twirling.

We stumble  around--our arms  held stiffly out.

We would not think to disobey the rules of play and take our blindfolds off.





The still blind folded dante is tied to a pathetic tree and shot by TV remote controls ala firing squad. Dead, he takes his blindfold off and takes up his calligraphy brush like a walking stick that turns into a violent weapon.


                                    THE CIRCLE OF RAGE

                                    IN WHICH SINNERS


                        DANCE OF CHOKING AND BLIND RAGE



                                    DANTE(VOICE OVER)

Hell's blackness was never as deep as the smoke that now encompassed me. I stumbled blindly behind my guide, grabbing his coat, afraid of losing my way. The smokes so strong, I could neither see nor stop crying.



He wept so much that a river came of his angered tears...a river of misery known as greed. So it was that we swam our way upstream.


                                    BEATRICE (LEWDLY STREWN ON  BED)

*We are in the land of misers where the river of greed begins its miserable course among the stinking pigs that are its citizens. From its beginning to its end, virtue is treated like a poisonous snake. Everyone runs from it as if it were the plague. Upward it flows, like a ladder, this river and it gets bolder and wilder until all along its banks, the dogs turn into wolves. I see your grandchild, dante--he's turned into a hunter of  wolves. He sells their flesh while they're still living. He takes their fur while they still need it. He comes out bloody and laughing from the forest  he's plundering, leaving it so ruined that in a thousand  years, it will not grow again one single tree.


 It's supposed to be getting better and better, kinder and gentler the higher I go. But it just seems to be getting worse.


                                    BEATRICE (MANICURING NAILS WITH GIANT RAZOR                                                      BLADE)

The world is deserted by virtue and pregnant with injustice.



But tell me the reason why so I may know and show others the way to avoid it.







                                                SOUL IN THE SMOKE OF ANGER

Oh Brother, the world is blind and you come from the world...



O.K! So far in Purgatory, the monk man that is me is journeying, just like a hero through the desperate fog of  all his failings. He is writing down absolutely everything  he hears and sees. He puts his name to everything--whether it is his or not. Ownership and originality have nothing to do with  art or  property, reasons dante, for without my skills the truth would never be heard out and therefore it would not exist. Like the girl I once was, it would be less than  useless, that is--lacking in visibility, which is the divine measure of all things.


                                    THE CIRCLE OF SLOTH:



                        THE  HOSANNA  OF  VICTIMHOOD

I'm a victim of circumstance.

Just a poor old victim of circumstance

He's a victim

you're a victim

the state is a victim

the people are a victim

it's not my fault, it's my heritage

it's not my fault, someone else pulled the trigger

it's not my fault, I was brought up wrong

it's not my fault, it was the medicine I took

it's not my fault, it’s the pollutants in the air I breathe

it's not my fault, I didn't sign the bill

it's not my fault, I didn't make her homeless

its not my fault I didn't give him AIDS

its no my fault I didn't make her insane

It's not my fault, it's not my responsibility

I'm a victim of circumstance, just like you

I have no accountability on earth

I have no accountability on earth.



The scribe dante upon hearing this no longer knows what to write on the parchment to assure his  ascent. "Pardon me," he says desperate like to virgil the mouth of reason-- "I thought the whole point of Purgatory was learning to  take responsibility" If that is not the truth that will get me to Paradise, please teach me what is...



Mergers and buy outs, you silly.



That is, the business of loving.



I don't get it. I just went through hell giving up love so I could get to heaven.



That's right .



 And now you tell me that love is all there is. So therefore, as it stands, I am nothing.



No, Dante. You still listen with the ears of a girl, that is: a masochist. Here in Purgatory, things are different. The rules of redemption are different. Love is different. Here, you don't need a heart to know love; as a matter of fact, a heart in such a matter in Purgatory would be...a handicap.



Then, my master,  from the perspective of your vast reason, teach me what love is so I may get it  and get out of here.


 Beatrice, dressed in black leather and chains, ties dante up and beats him with the lash of love during Virgil's Discourse on Love.



And  virgil took this opportunity to worm his way into the hole that was left behind by the ex-girl's devoured heart and coiling there, he began to sing the following:

There's your good love and your bad

Your happy love and your sad

one can love one's self too much and others too little,

one may love distortedly or perversely or out of key

but no matter what, love is absolutely everything.

The soul responds to everything that makes it happy. The soul when seized with longing, that is love, never rests until it possesses its beloved thing.

No Creator and no creature who ever was, was without love.

Love is the seed of every good and every evil deed.

Love is absolutely  everything. Love is the very most important thing.


                                                DANTE(CURLED ON THE FLOOR IN                                                                            AGONY  AND ECSTASY)

But I don't understand. I thought that in the free market democracy of Purgatory all are created equal.  Sins and good deeds all are equal, sinners and saints equal, with everybody having an equal opportunity to get to heaven. Right?



Relative and equal, dear. One big happy family.



So, if everything and everyone is equal, how can love, divine or otherwise, be any more important than any other quality?



dante, love is not a quality nor a humor nor a man nor a beast. Love is the divine principle itself and therefore without limit or definition. Subject to change and interpretation, like the skies on an autumn night. It is the infinite variable, the reason of reason, the jewel of chaos theory.


            dante, completely beaten to a pulp by Beatrice, begs                                      


Are we finished, dear teacher, please with your discourse on love? I think I get it now.



Yes, my child, to understand it any deeper you must depend on faith.


                        (BEATRICE, POINTING TO HERSELF, SMILING)



And with such a faith you no longer need me. Its time for me to leave. My son, you and I have seen the temporary fire and the eternal fire; we have experienced together each and every sin and its punishment. Now you have  reached the place past which my powers of reason and art cannot guide you. Your will is your own now--whole, erect, free. I crown you sovereign all over yourself. I'm going back home to hell. Send me a postcard when you get there. Ciao!


Beatrice, triumphant, crawls into dante's lap and takes off his monk's robe. The emaciated Angel of Humility climbs out of nowhere and steals the giant calligraphy pen and starts a game of tick tack toe over a list of sins and penances.



I'm going to take you to heaven, big boy.


                                                DANTE(GRABBING BACK HIS PEN)

The monk who is now alone with himself



 and his love Beatrice



 pushes his brush into the belly of the beast. His brush dipped in the gold ink bleeds the page until it has no flesh only black blood, no meat but the gristle of symbology. The language he makes up by slicing open every word  that ever was starts to fall fast on the parchment like hail out of a broken sky. And it reads:


                                    SONG OF AMERICA/PURGATORY                  

Oh America/Purgatory -- you island of dreams

you ship without captain in angry seas,

you  queen of no-tell motels

you maker of mega stars, every one of us

 famous for fifteen minutes.

*You  with your riches, peace, justice, and equality.

you with your  schemes, plans and dreams so fabulous

that whatever threads October sees you weave

come mid November you've sent them all unraveling.

How many times have you changed laws and sides, offices

and customs and if your  memory serves you right

then you will see yourself like a sick person

who finding no rest upon his  bed, turns and tosses

but can find no place to  ease his pain.




Dear god:

I know from my readings of the Good Book, that to get your ear I better be brief. Well, this is it: I don't want to live anymore, God in the United States of Purgatory, where everything is equal in the eyes of the lord money, one nation under a trillion dollar debt with liberty and justice for all in a state of violence, wherein I cannot sleep at night for the noise of gunshots out my window. Where...I cannot live in this shit.

Dear god--

Send  me back to  hell where evil and its results come out making sense.





Aw--don't take things so serious. See! Now you are sin-free!



It was the hour of day that turns the homesick wanderer weeping for home. My beloved guide, virgil the worm the mouth of reason was gone. My heart was gone. My sins were gone. I had this terrible craving to be a girl again; that is: a mutilated heart, a broken ghost.

            Now I was too clearly in the land of shadows, the personal purgatory of self in this time and place. Betwixt and between. Cowering from the fascist taint of adamant decision, of total ideological commitment...that  hell.

             Back and forth. The halfway house of the soul; the house of good intentions; the house of maybe and I hope so; the house of I appreciate your position; the house of both sides now. Having left the murderous hole of right and wrong, black and white, yes or no that has led to so much slaughter, I have found no respite in the grey lands herein. Times like these...I want to be a girl again--someone whose thoughts and decisions in the long run batting average of history don't  count.  These were my thoughts in  Purgatory proper where to make a clear cut choice is to be coward.

            But then my hearing left me. My sight, as well. And I was moved to move beyond my mind.



*Now keen to search within, to look around that dense forest, he left behind the banks and took the plain to the wood. There he came upon a river that blocked  his  advance. The waters come up from a pure and changeless stream--it pours and it divides. On one side, it flows with the power to end one's memory of sin, and on the other it can restore memory of each good deed one's ever done. One side is called Lethe, the other Eunoe. Neither stream cures, unless the other's waters have been drunk.


And so it was that the scribe dante went to be purified.



I know nothing. But my heart, which is devoured, which no longer exists, still hurts.



No it doesn't, dante. It’s just your imagination, this imaginary heart. Like when a soldier in war has his leg blown off, for years after he still feels like the limb exists. But it doesn't.


            DANTE  LED BY BEATRICE. AT THE RIVERS THAT LEAD TO EARTHLY                                             PARADISE



            dante followed the shaky blue line that is the River Lethe, the waters of forgetting, the road to man's salvation.

            He wants to jump in and forget everything bad thing he's ever done, anybody else has ever done, anything bad that has ever happened on earth below or in  the heavens above. But...he can't do it, no he just can't make the leap of imagination. 

            To the right he sees Eunoe, the river of  selective remembering, in whose waters  you can only recall  the good  you've done and none of the nasty-- a kind of a fluoride system for the soul. Rivers of forgetfulness and remembering--he knows he can't wash in one without stepping in the other--that would be like soaping up without the rinse cycle. He doesn't want to get wet at all, poor guy.

            Virgil has left him, the monk he was has left him, the constellations in the sky have left him, an eclipse of the soul has hunkered down like smoke stack smoke over his self absorption where no one can make him out. He figures to guide himself now, poor deserted one, by the sound of those rivers--the one senility, the other exaggeration-- the double laned highway to heaven.

            Holding himself to the river banks with his teeth, those wardens of his vulgar tongue, he listens out, a foghorn of himself, with the salt and  worms and  mica of his life bursting out of his skin.

            Blind again, washed up like sea bones, again without voice, he goes with only tongue and tears to find his way out of what he's become--the absence of memory, the travesty of true love. He's soaked in tears, tears define his body and burnish the mute tongue that licks the earth like a blind man’s walking stick, tasting out the route that will take him where he's going, trying to get out from, trying to rise up from, to shuffle his way to Paradise, drinking up the one side then drinking down the other.

            This is how people survive their lives.




An Electronic Book with computer images and computer generated sound. Virtual Reality. The modern equivalent to the Cathedral stained glass window; teaching book.



                                    A Book of Hours for an Earthly Paradise



























                                                DANTE (ALONE, SOUND OF SEA., NIGHT. HE                                                          HOLDS A BUTCHER'S KNIFE)

Twist the ragged filaments of blown fluorescent tubes and make a seat for yourself in the crushed place where junk has an everlasting peace--a divinity really. Over and over the questions, the same ones a child asks:

what is good what is bad?

Bad must be what's ignored or laughed away or cowered from or beat out of.

Good?  good?  An action that's praised or rewarded?  By whom?  For what?

The small questions a child asks.

Who can say lust is bad when you may never have anyone in your life to love? Who can say avarice and greed are bad when you may grow old and have no money in a country that does not care for its old?

Instead of digging at the core of-----

dig at your own hands, your own scalp, your ear canals

dig in places that will never betray you. dear god, this is my prayer:

                                    dante chops off her hands.


The heavens are turned upside down --there's more light in the dirt than in the sky. He is looking for the sky everywhere he turns, he's thrown the brush and stylus into the river, he's chopped off his offending hands. The stubs that are left are like the suicide trees--that is all that's left of his memory. She's happy.

                                                END: PURGATORY/THE ART OF ILLUMINATION








* denotes passage from The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri


                                    THE GIRL OF MAPS


                        PART III:  A GIRL'S GUIDE TO THE DIVINE COMEDY                                               




The Map Girl--dante, now a young girl, pre-adolescent, destined to chart the           heart and  soul of  the universe

The Voices of Beatrice and Virgil


                                    VIRGIL (V. O.)

*As upon smooth and transparent glass, or through clear and tranquil waters, yet not so deep that the bottom is lost, the outlines of our faces come back to us.


                                    DANTE THE MAP GIRL

The constellations are all deranged here. No hunters, no victorious lions,

just the saturated creatures--the shark, the sea horse, the coral colony.

The landscape divides like a red sea and I fell  through its eye .



The Paradise of her fumigated memory opens up and takes her in like a freezing kitten at the door stoop. All the sins  that ever were of her have been cleaned out just by the accounting for--the slate wiped clean by the soul's self audit.

A list of the deeds of her good appear on the platter of her flapping tongue:

--the old lady  she escorted across the street

--the alms she gave for the poor

--the hand me down words she gave away for the wearing.

Everything she ever worked for in her whole life disappears into the new .....


            On the scrim, the Map Girl is charting the Universe--constellations, planets, moons, the earth's topography as seen from space. The images keep changing from line drawings to geological surveys to astrology charts to diagrams of the human body, the brain, the cell, the atom. Every imaginable sort of mapping is taking place on the scrim before her eyes and yet, it is also as if she is controlling the kaleidoscope of imagery. The action is the juncture between the tale the Map Girl tells and the imagery on the scrim. The title 'Paradise: the Map Girl' appears briefly on the scrim. In front of her, she is creating, throughout the piece, a miniature paradise made of various found objects--like a religious shrine off a highway--pictures, pretty paper, beer bottles, canning jars, hubcaps, spark plugs, cigarette packs. She has no hands, only stumps.



                                    BEATRICE(VOICE OVER)

            Because the words were lost and the images disappeared, it was given to  a ghost writer, to make them appear again.

            She mapped the world before the world knew its size

with the palm of her hand stretched out to the night sky she figured out the shape of things. 



                                    MAP GIRL/DANTE

She blamed it on the room she was given as a child. 

A glass room with a glass roof, high up, so that the air was really her earth and the ground below seemed as distant as the sky.




                                                MAP GIRL

            She walked the sky with her hands, but only at night, when she could be guided by the hunters and the lions, the fish and the half horsemen that traversed it.

            And during the days, when the sun blinded her from the signposts of travel, she drew what she had seen in the night and the measurements she made, made the earth clearer and bigger.

            All over the glass windows and glass  floor, she  laid out rows and rows of the finest onion skin and on it, she traced the longitudes and latitudes of a hypothetical world, much larger than the one that was known. 

            Not one hemisphere, but two, not two continents but seven,  and in the places of the unknown,  the girl demarcated  roads.  She found a place for the monsters, the new world she called it and so the size of the world doubled, secretly in the girl's glass room. Now, when the sun hit the room all the colored places on the map lit up like a stained glass illumination. And the girl learned not to fear the far away earth because it was stretched out like a sleeping kitten on her floor.

            No one knew of this gift of the girl's for many, many years.  And those that did, did not believe in it.

            She couldn't remember anything about her real family except the dark smell of closets. She was six when she was taken, but the difference in the life before and the one since was so extraordinary that it was if that first child died and a new one lived.         


Her new parents  gave her everything a child could dream.

 A shepherd dog and a pony.

A golden top and a silver  ball

An endless room with a balcony

where she could watch the heavens and the sea.

 A chamber of exquisite clothing

A chamber of illuminated books.

A chamber of the most delectable treats.

"Read these", said the man

"Wear these", said the woman

"play with these " they said to her, pointing to the beasts.


                                    MAP GIRL

With these words, they left her alone in her room  for the years until she turned sixteen. She wore the clothes and read the books, ate the food, played with the beasts.  Every night and day, watching out her window, she watched the world change. And she grew to be both wise and beautiful.



                                    (FROM THE  SIXTEENTH CANTO)

*You who are mother and father,

 Who are all love and all family to me.

You give me courage to speak

You so lift me up that I am more than I.


                                                MAP GIRL

She had one vanity, though and that was her hands. She would  hold them up to the light  and the light would travel through them. She could see their blood and bones and veins because  they were  translucent. She would stare at these hands for hours on end as if they were beautiful strangers and she did not belong to them. So the seasons passed until she was sixteen.

            When her parents returned in her sixteenth year, they had a birthday  party for the girl.  All the important people of the land were there. The girl was, for the first time in her life, introduced to people, which was very strange for her as her life had been limited to the glass room, the clothes, the beasts, the books, the food, and the window. 

            She didn't know  what to do or what to say to them as they looked her over, inch by inch. They extended their hands to her but she didn't understand the sign of welcome. In her confusion she lifted up her hands, too-- not to them but  to the firelight. The light shone through her hands and everyone could see all her veins and bones and arteries. The people gasped in wonder,  but what surprised them the most  was that as she held her hands up, a gigantic map of the world was illuminated through them like the sun striking stained glass  window panes.  There were the seaways and the highways and  the landmarks of the nations of the world and the demarcations of all their boundaries. But there were also whole countries and continents, rivers and seas that the people  had never seen before. It was as if the room, itself, held its breath. And then:

            'How do you know such things,' they jabbered at the girl.

            'I, sir, ' she trembled, 'I know nothing'.

She put her hands down and the map vanished.

            After the birthday feast, they all said goodbye and the girl went to sleep. When she woke up, she was not in her own room at all but another glass room and the door was locked and her beasts were gone and her beautiful clothes were gone and her parents were no where to be found, only guards like toy soldiers who brought her meals and cleaned her things.  She tried to make friends with this, her new family. Finally they told her she was a prisoner  because to  know  the whereabouts of  the world is always a state secret.  She must be good, said the old men who came to her window  from time to time to check her progress. She must be good which they explained meant to draw for them everything she  saw that could chart the world.  In return,  they promised to feed her and protect her from all evil, of which, they assured her, there was much on heaven and earth.  They gave her a large round room, all of glass, the walls, the roof, even the floor, was glass.  They gave her  sheets and sheets of charting paper, a sextant, all of gold, a jeweled compass, and two enormous blank globes on which to record her knowledge. They prayed over her the last rites of burial to signify that she was dead to the world--the world she was to chart for them without ever being allowed to walk out into it again.                                                            .           But in one thing, the girl kept her secret. The ones who locked her up, who gave her the  measuring instruments, didn't understand that she measured the world through the journeys of her hands.  They thought she did it by some brand of  intuition  that they sought  then  to quantify, when actually it was quite a science by which the appendages traveled away from her body at night and returned to her by day. 

            At night when the guards thought she was sleeping, her hands would leave her and they would fly.  They went to Africa and wandered its deserts  and  its jungles. They went to the River Ganges and bathed, they went to the holy city  Jerusalem and prayed.  By intimate touch, they knew all the wonders of the Ancient and Modern and Future Worlds.

            When her hands returned to her each dawn, she held them up to the rising day and she extracted from their shining  veins  the web of her journey. Quickly,  she would transfer the impression to the transparent vellum sheets that covered the windows, walls,  and floor. She would take from the hands only that information which would help the old men get where they wanted to be going--the mountain passes, the rivers, the deserts, and plains.  She ignored  the other knowledge of the hands--the  maps of  the tastes of a thousand exotic places,  the cartography of  the future and the buried past,  the globes of galaxies  built up from words like sweet, and free, and hurt, and love; that is the cartography of feeling. She did what she was told and ignored the multitude of maps the hands were bringing for  the  lines of latitude and longitude.    

            When at noontime,  the  guards appeared, she would point wordlessly to the new charted sheets, which they would then take away, replacing them with four fresh blank ones.

            She wondered what would happen to her after she completed mapping the world and she was sure it would end, as she was certain that the world had its limits.  But how limited, she pondered, or how huge?  As she starts to worry--because she knows when her job's over they will kill her to keep her secrets,  to seal all the portals of this knowledge, she begins to yearn to chart the other information the hands bring her--the images, the feelings, the lost histories, the fantasies.

            For the first time, she charts fantasy--trees taller than the sky, giants with tusks, fish with wings and serpents with such powerful tails they sweep aside whole cities. And she maps out feeling--the routes of love and hate, anger and compassion. But she tears these documents up as soon as she makes them.

            She becomes fascinated  with mapping cities, present and past,  real and imaginary.  For she has only lived three  places in her life, the closet of her infancy,  the square box in the forest of her childhood and now in the mapmaker's tower and all these times, desolate of people.            

            The images of cities the hands brought back awed her.  The roofs clamoring over each other like a stack of almanacs, the faces of the houses set staring at each other in attitudes of compare across the narrow winding streets.  The things she could see in the large plate glass windows--cakes and loaves in one, a shower of fine dresses in another, sparkling jewels in yet another.  Then she observed the people streaming in and out of brick houses, announced by a ringing set of chimes on each door.  Through the moving pictures engraved on her tiny hands, she could almost see their desire and sometimes their despair as they hurried through the honey comb of their city--each as isolated as she, but somehow connected to one another in a way she felt she lacked--as if they were one entity, at least when they bustled through the streets or as they extended arms and goods in their shopping.  These new maps she doesn't destroy, but conceals. 

            As her hands continued to travel and bring back vast stores of information about the roads and  the sea, the landmarks of earth sky and water, she searched them hungrily for only one thing--the image of the city because it was the one thing that destroyed her own lonely exile. She sent the hands far and wide to discover these places of many people and fantastical buildings. Thus, the discovery of the world proceeded at an unexpected pace. 

            Once she had became a connoisseur of cities, north, south east and west, the Girl of Maps constructed a model in her mind of a city made up of the best attributes of each,  which she believed she would like best to live in.  And during the day as she automatically trudged through the graphing of the maps, she lived in her heart in city after city in many great houses, with a great many friends.




            As her knowledge piled up and up, it threatened to burst the seams of her tower. So they built her another one--bigger with a great telescope through which she could see the planet and stars. She had a great sadness inside this new house for she could sense by the look and feel of her hands as they returned each day that they had mapped practically the entire world.  And when the job was done, she knew she would be murdered.

            When she had been younger, before the hands had brought her the visions of the cities, she had  not  been so afraid of death, because she believed  that  when one is dead, one is still simply alone with one's self, and she was quite used to that.  But now, she grew lonely  for these populated places that came to her in the moving images each morning.  And she made up her mind to expand the information of her hands that went into the maps for the old men so she could remain in life a little longer. This was how she made her work  go slower:

            The hands hold the girl's image forever--the image of the young girl pressed against the night glass--her arm out making charts.  She no longer charts the outlines, she maps the things of the heart , the soul, and the hope of the globe. No longer does she keep them secret.

            'We don't want  these things," they tell her,' they make it hard to see the roads. We don't want the things unless they are made from silver or gold. You're not concentrating!"  the old men say.

            She tries and tries. But she doesn't want to die.


                          CENTURIES LATER  AND EARLIER 

 It was in Ravenna that  Dante  saw  the hands for the first time.  They were lying outside the cathedral.  He was old and sleepless and he liked to walk around the church  at night, thinking. He thought the hands  must have fallen off one of the statues of the  saints.  And so he took them to his hotel room for safe keeping until he could return them to the priests. 

            Holding the hands in one hand, he opens the door to his room with the other.  He places them on the little table under the reading lamp.  He puts one palm up, the other down. He marvels at their definition--the veins, the nails and their half moons, the lines and  the wrinkles, the soft round pads under the joints of each finger,  the articulation of these joints, the distinctive posture of each of  the hands, definitely a pair but highly individual unto  themselves.

            He cannot at first ascertain the material of their making.  They have a marble quality,  but they seem too soft, too flesh to be really stone. He stares at them.  He has to pick them up.  He has to kiss them.  It is the most beautiful kiss he has ever experienced.

            He turns off the light.  He lies down on his poor bed. He sleeps

very deeply, hard breathing as if he were trudging up a steep cliff--the hands are in front of him, dancing, they lead him

            down the muddy terraces of this cliff, down to the sea. With their palms stretched out, they make two little boats, like slippers for his feet and he enters the water on this craft. The hands take him everywhere on earth and in heaven that they had once taken the Girl of Maps.

            Night after night, he dreams the girl and her hands. They relate  her discoveries, which have vanished from earth--the geography of love, the topography of trust, the many byways of desire and despair and the tangle of routes to divinity. 

            Awake, in her hands, the old man sees the fear in the young girl's eye as they throw in her food and slam the metal door on the glass room she cannot leave. He sees her there, centuries ago or ahead, he cannot be sure which-- living  as flesh, a picture in her own hands. He sees them strangling her and the shock on her face when they tell her it is not for finishing her map of the world that she must die, but for mapping  far too much, cities that were too grand, emotions that were too strong, seas that were too deep, galaxies that were too far, ideals that were too ideal. The  Girl of Maps is laughing. All along she thought  that her life would be put to an end when her work was at an end, but instead they were ending her life for charting a world without end. When the man  tries to rescue her from her room, the hands he sees her in become opaque. She vanishes inside, where they have already finished her off.         

            The old man begins to weep for the dead girl.  Meanwhile in his dreams, her hands continue to carry him all over the world, tugging him by his hands, floating him on his feet, as they sit folded and pretty on his little desk on a sheet of blank paper.  They see the whole world-- the old man's dreams and the dead girl's hands--the actual things, and then the outlines of the things. Then they begin to see exactly  what the girl was charting when they murdered her--he saw  she had been mapping the inside of being--the soul of the earth; the monsters and angels of our breathing; the atomic particles of our hunger.  And if we had her map, thought the old man,  our world would have a different shape; it would have a different size and many, many other dimensions than what we have now.

            In her hands, he saw a living worm crawl out and the worm said  " the world is defined by the makers of its maps and limited by  those who control their vision.' And then the serpent crawled back inside. 

            If she had just stopped mapping the world, thought the old man, perhaps they would've made her a hero  instead of a disappeared, or maybe they just would have let her go, anonymous.

            No.  Either way she's a ghost.

            They stole what they wanted of what she made and said it wasn't hers, which was easy because, who would believe it from the hands of a  girl.  They gave her map  to posterity in the form of king's glory and  explorers' discoveries. But it really was she who had mapped the world we use today. And much more of our world that has been lost to us.  

            These are the things he learns at night when he holds up the hands to the lamplight in his little hotel room. The hands that reveal a map of the soul.  "Here is love"  they say, "the heart of any map".

            "These are not concepts" the girl trapped in the hands says to Dante.  "These are real places, visceral spaces like Detroit or Washington.  You have to experience them like that or you won't get anywhere."  The obscura of  flesh  covers her up  and she's gone. 

             The old man  sitting in his dark room outside a cathedral in Ravenna takes up  the dead girl's hands and transcribes what they see for all those without love or home or life--a divine comedy for a homeless humanity.

            Meanwhile-she's dead . When she is dead, the only thing that matters to her poor ghost body is vision.  Because when you cannot see, how is it you can map anything?  By now mapping is everything to her, more than life itself it has become.  She has a job to do in the underworld that is her paradise-- charting the land of the dead.  But to map  the land here, one must also count it’s disappeared, those who are not acknowledged as having ever been dead or living.


                                    SCRIM INSCRIPTION:

                        YOU WHO ONLY WRITE TO ERASE



                                                            MAP GIRL

because they are the land here-- one big charnel house of nebulous bone and dirt and decayed flesh--the individual aspects of which cannot  be distinguished.  So The Girl of Maps moves the memory of her hands that have been lost to her in her own death, over the underworld to measure its tongue and unloose its speech.  After we die, she thinks, in her first night in death from where she can see....


                        SCRIM INSCRIPTION:




                                         VOICE OF BEATRICE

The blood red towers of Dis and the marketplace of Purgatory,  and the Paradise of Maps, which have no earthly substance.


                                    MAP GIRL

After we die, our job, like that of Atlas, is  to hold up the living.


                                    MAP GIRL (VOICE OVER AND LIVE)

*I think I saw the universal form

I think I saw a light stronger than the sun

and it was running in circles.

one circle reflected the next and the third was a ball of fire.

How incomplete are words for this...

I was like a mathematician trying to square a circle

who cannot find the principle he needs.

I wanted to see the way in which humankind fit in this circle of light on light,

 but no matter how I struggled, my senses were too weak.

Suddenly my mind was struck by a light

And I disappeared into the flame of that light.


Here my imagination fails me, or perhaps there are neither thoughts nor words for what I saw. But I have been sent turning and turning, like a perfect wheel, by the love that turns the sun and all the other stars in the universe. Here on Earth. As it could be.



                                    END: PARADISE

                                     The Girl of Maps 


                        End: A Girl's Guide to the Divine Comedy
 * denotes passage from The Divine Comedy  by Dante Alighieri     

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