By Carl Dennis
Featured art: Soap Bubbles by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin
Even in Dante’s inspired version,
Heaven and hell don’t seem like regions
Appropriate for humans, being too static,
Too imbued with notions of the eternal.
Yes, for the sake of justice, the violent
Who get away with murder on earth
Ought to feel a heat more fiery
Than the coals of rage that burned inside them;
The betrayers of friends and patrons deserve a chill
Colder than the ice in their arctic hearts.
But shouldn’t their sentences have a limit?
Won’t their victims, the pillaged and trampled
And rolled to the wall, eventually grow
Uncomfortable in the balmy realm of the blessed
At the thought of their oppressors
In endless torment? Won’t they decide
A determinate stay is long enough?
It isn’t our place to stand in the way if Abel
Throws down a rope at last to Cain,
If Jesus takes Judas by the hand.
So hell, if imagination wins out,
Ought to be slowly emptying,
And then heaven as well, as the saints
Return to earth to help the sinners
Learn what damage they can undo
If they give themselves to the effort,
And what damage they’ll have to leave as is.
Carl Dennis is the author of many books of poems, including Selected Poems, 1974-2004, and, most recently, Night School. A winner of the Ruth Lilly Prize and The Pulitzer Prize, he lives in Buffalo, New York.
Originally published in NOR 9 Spring 2011