“Reading Dante: Alabama, 1950s”

A thank you poem for all of you who've shared,
commented on, or read these poems!

I read poetry before I knew what to say to myself,
fumbling with ornate red-velvet translations, Dante
between brown pasteboard covers, heading straight
down the spiral ramp to hell, the poet leading me
to what was underneath, nether world, nether parts
no one talked about, but I didn’t expect that icy heart,
that cold despair was the biggest sin, like marble
slabs crushing the water at river’s bend, no way out.
I read on until everyone I knew was frozen, flayed,
or fricasseed, I never got to the part where the poet
sees hope, the girl my age veiled in white, beckoning,
me, I longed for her unknown sharp-edged speech,
for an axe made of words, to lift, to smash, to smash
through. It was my doomed father I followed through
the winter woods, he showed me the rill of water
running along the base of the hill, through the massed
dead leaves, I waded barefoot there in the winter,
in a place where nothing is ever frozen all the way

That axe was originally Franz Kafka's. In a 1904 letter to a friend,
Kafka said: "A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us."

I found those words, finally, and Beatrice became the heroine
of my book, "Walking Back Up Depot Street"--


Minnie Bruce Pratt

Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivs
Creative Commons 2010

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