Dante, Inferno 21 (2nd part)

Once at our bridge, he called out, voice up and over:

—Malebranche! I’ve got a priest for you!
A high priest, a good one, from Lucca,
Dump this one in for me and I’ll go back for some more,

Happy hunting and certainly racking up the points
In Lucca, that corrupt town, where many priests are,
Where a no becomes a yes by a palm-press of notes,
(Excusing of course Bonturo Dati, who swears he doesn’t take a bribe).

Dropped his sinner and grinned, success of the chase,
Then turned, as good as his word, wheeled along
The stony cliff – no stifflegged mastiff ever managed as well – one devil
No detection necessary, only the punishment,
Unleashed with so much haste to chase a thief.

They dunked him, they dunked him good,
The sinner plunged, then bobbed up, besmirched with pitch,
He paddled, his arms outstretched,
The demons beneath the bridge taunted in a chorus:

—Look at our new little Jesus,
Sorry, no crucifixion allowed,
Not like the good old days in the Serchio
Where you could float in the clear water
Arms outstretched and not die,
Instead examine the bowl of the sky,
If you don’t want some steel,
If you don’t want to feel our forks again,
Back down, please, well below the level of the pitch.

They pricked him with three times thirty-three prongs and more,
They punctured him and like a dinghy he sank, devilish, no?

—You’ve got do your time below,
See how graft works in the darkness,
If you can.

These demons same-minded as any cook
Who sets his scullions to prodding at the buoyant dumplings,
Down, down, into the casserole
To coat nicely and take on the sauce.

Then Virgil:

—Don’t let them see you behind this rock,
Head down, crouch, that’s it.
I’m going to have a word,
Whatever they do… or threaten to do… don’t come out,
I can handle them.

He showed himself, and calmly, coolly on the sixth embankment,
Went to meet them.

Estate dogs charging an itinerant, to fetch up as yowling mess
Against the grubby tired ankles, snapping, snarling
So that there’s a backwards dance,
Begging on the moderate retreat,
The demons charged him, toasting forks to within an inch,

—Can’t you forget your savagery?
Before you try to maul me,
Just let one of your troop step forward.
Hear me out and then decide if I am to be hooked.

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