Dante, Inferno Canto 29 (2nd part)

Finally in Malebolge, the tenth cloister,
Where the cries are iron tipped, not loud
They pierce, the lamentations do.
So that I kept my hands pressed against my ears.

Like a malaria hospital in the hot hot midsummer,
Or if about ten hospitals of malaria, dysentery, cholera,
All the plague places, Valdichiana, Maremma, Sardinia,
In hottest July through September,
The smell of gangrene and rot and pus and putrefaction,
Bacteria reign, ebola and lassar fever are on the menu.

Grim to be on this island, of the ghastly wounds,
Grim to be in this hospital, around invalids permanently,
And very little room to squeeze between their malodorous beds,
Grim, where is the linen and where are the nurses,
Dove sono le infermiere?

God is a hospital without nurses, it seems, or leeches,
Diagnosis is simple, but the cure… the redemption, the salvation,
I have not yet seen any of this.

Leftwards we screwed down into the dip
Decay floats in the air, tangible, such corruption.

Supine, or with the strength only to drag slowly around,
All fours in the plague pit. Too close and the plague can waltz between,
It breeds itself,
Cannot lift the head, the head hung, they couldn’t lift themselves,
In silence now, we went along.

Two had propped them each other into sitting,
They scratched the lesions, not knowing any other remedy,
They moulted scales of skin, as a knife lifts fish scales,

—And you, scrabbling and stripping, with fingers never still,
You could tell us whether any here are Italian…?

Obsessive at their task,
The divine cacoethes, you cannot scratch the itch,
It could be that it’s burrowing mites today,
Could be psoriasis tomorrow, obsession
To match the obsession of those they duped,
Those they played around with so fulsomely.

—We were human once, so owned the minor detail of Italian, yes
But who are you, that you inquire of us?’

—I’m here to be a humble guide is all,
Intention was to show him perfect Hell.

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