I mentioned this story includes a catabasis. At the conclusion of Dante's Inferno, at the nadir of Dante's own catabasis, he & Virgil have to pass through the anus of Satan in order to reach the other side, and proceed upward through Purgatory.
This chapter plays a semi-comic riff on Dante's disgusting trip. The shape-shifting Bluejay assumes the aspect of a mentally-ill homeless man, someone who has grabbed you by the shoulder & will not let go until he's finished his extended rant. As with the Inferno, reader is intentionally knocked back on his or her heels somewhat. The aim is to shock. The idea is to break through the "literariness" and aesthetic remove, at least momentarily. You are going to smell the sulfur.
But Bluejay is also a truth-teller. Beneath the quasi-paranoid obscurities, his rant is a critique of the arty chicken-house, where sophistication is applied to condone attitudes and belief-systems designed to dehumanize. EP and EP, the "Eddy Puss" twin poet-cats Edgar Poe and Ezra Pound - both harboring ideological habits of racism and pretensions to elite aristocracy - here these two come in for Bluejay-Pushkin's condemnation. It's a cry of protest from the street.
Meantime, Henry is doubly shocked by the subterranean ambiguities of Bluejay's sexual overtures.
Under the aegis of art - the RISD Museum, Henry & Bluejay walk through and into a painting of Mary Magdalen - the two of them traverse a subterranean, Satanic realm, where desire metamorphoses into a mode of perverse coprophilia. When they emerge into daylight again - near the Carrie Tower and the Lovecraft memorial, just a few steps up Prospect Street from the bust of Dante (outside the John Hay Library of Brown University) - Bluejay sums up his take their journey, says goodbye, and issues a final prophetic denunciation - this time against the nation as a whole, for its heartless incarcerations of people like him (still a very topical subject today, nearly 20 years since the poem was written).
So Bluejay takes off, leaving Henry on his own - until the end of the poem, when he'll return in another form.
The museum was dark and quiet as a tomb.
Must be past closing, Bluejay. I can't see a thing.
Sho is now, hon. Faint light glowed in a ring
around his upraised hand – palm toward the gloom
against a south wall. C'mon over here.
And he saw her then – the ancient Magdalen.
Clothed in scarlet and pale blue. Her green
eyes shedding mercy, understanding, and desire –
fused in one disturbing glance. In her hands,
the golden myrrh-box – reflecting rays
from Bluejay's miracle-fingers . She says,
C'mon inside. What? – and the box opens.
Like a door. And the doorway widened – they
crossed the threshold – into a humble room,
firelit. An old woman – (Mary's mom?)
– had them sit down beside her; she
held out her trembling hand to Henry, and
spoke with great difficulty, and it was difficult
to understand her, but what she said
was: he is your brother and your friend.
Go with him, to the end. So Henry suddenly
laughed, took that growling old bluebear's arm,
and let himself be lead through the darkness.
Let himself be led, that is. And it was funny:
Bluejay found a hidden corridor – probably
unknown even to the old museum guards.
They walked – down, down, side by side, no words.
There was an unmistakable metallic, powdery
– gunpowdery – odor, now. Iron, or lead. Maybe
sulfur, too. Quicksliver; magnoleum, perhaps.
The hallway opened to a tunnel – then stopped.
It was a cavern – mustydank, close, clammy.
Two parallel tracks of rusted iron emerged
from one caved-in wall and crossed diagonally
to disappear through another. It's smelly
in here, said Henry, suddenly noticing the turgid
rank scent of what surely was dogshit.
Lotta batshit, said Bluejay.
Juss like it was yesteday.
But take a gander over there, nitwit.
He fIrst noticed a network of faint bands of criss-
crossed light (a sort of parallelogram)
in the gray dirt, and tracked the pale glimmer
to a barred window in one wall – thin slats or slits
cut in the concrete blocks, or stone or whatever.
Walked over – found the window at perfect height.
And beheld – Providence, in the dim moonlight.
Bluejay was silent. Henry began to shiver.
You gettin chickenshit, Hen? No need to be afraid.
You with the K, that what Maggie say:
I gotsa prognosis for a prodigal, evvie whichway.
Outa time now, that neck ova cropolis – dead
tired, sleepin off the gridiron, all them divvie-up bars
an showgirl hangouts. Threads up them careless
avenues, all them lead bullpens – lesson, thass
no Bull-J! Ever hearda M-87? That is one grassgrowers'
noir ironleda ass-trough-no-no-me, better b'lieve!
Take a bead, draw a line, a Nilemile, a S-dive
inno that neutrain starlet, baby! A purrfect olive-
loined kitty: size ova city – weighs like a solar beehive,
man! We talkin grave, we talkin dense, I mean!
One odd spheroid, indeed! She a bullethead!
An backasswards to any deadhead afta her bread –
tellin you! You gettin diz-assed? Not yet, Hen?
Time was I ain't shot my wad inta Yoi yet ether.
But iz comin, man. We down among the trainin' ground,
the jailbait. There's Dorr down there, soundin
mighty low below the courthouse, a mere nether
unworldy goose he is, too. An here come his whiteface
double, po ol' Poe! 1848 slidin like a dyin worm
down Benefit, shoes achin, head achin widda storm
a Whitman onna brain – yeah, the coal lady in lace!
Burnin coal, waitin by the window, lookin down
from the broken wall – one helluva Helen firin him!
Afloat in his mind he wander up to th'Athenaeum,
get his blacknwhite ticklelily icon taken
with a crown to his brow an his eyes awry, forever
an ever. He was damned an good at them posterior
analytics – helluva chilly mathematical germcarrier,
Poe. Black n white everthing goes t'him – steer
for the po-po-Pole, amen! I mean, Dorr's dyin
bloated an blighted down in jail fo the franchise,
an Poe's upstairs brushin his teeth, realize –
dig Helen in the whitey semperequal sepulcryin
shame, man! She comin back like a ghost,
lil muddy, but o'elay! Cistern in the grounsoon!
Yeah, he play one limp in aristocat, that one –
that only lonely Poe, po man – evbody get lost.
Cryin shame. Lookee here. They's the black black
V you can' even see. She fingers burnin an
flowin wi the rivertime, yeah. Big muddy. Stan?
He taken pics ov all the doors on Benefit, ryeblack
t'the begin. Frien' a Sally's. Anyways, where was I?
O.K. Now lookee here carefully, now. De cussin
blasted shippin outa hell lands at Desolation
Island, see? Dem duded white pengoons all dressy
wit de alba trapses onna trapeezes widda net, see?
Anna black doorman 0 backdoor man, see
he holdin up the whole thing wid one pinky –
an it ain't even yarn. Odd, man – lamby-pamby!
– an he crost Atlantic belowdicks, chain up to a T.
Na square dat wid dem rocksaglory, right
P an P, sturdy an steady inna middle ova tight
sea – upright, man! Like Pizza Polevaulter, key!
Heavin an whole inna earth, alright! Y'follow?
So hey I sieze you got deez double dabblin upside-
arse-o-cats, real hep, man! Formula Tide,
like washin oeuvre everthin wid words t'swallow
aplenty! So soak dis formula, Hen:
Q2 (-E2 -P2) =-J2.
See, you got yo EP an yo EP, both ovum laird
O' th'Catkills. But even they gotta peepee, man!
An they gotta drop they shots an tiss inth toilet
juss like you an me! You with me?
We talkin catshit! Iz all kinda murmuree,
lowdown, muddy an mutteree, backassed – an wet!
[Henry begins to demure.] Where you goin with it all,
Bluejay? Comin atcha, Hen! Gimme another mint!
[Hen says: a mn. ..] Sallall, itsall upsighdown,
see! Looka that photo again–from the stall
them mudslides, unda th'Athenaeum.
Them big eyes–like mirrors – that face all
fascinatin, feastin yo eyes, fastened to a crawlin
buncha stuck sticks – killer bees, man! Hum-
bug all the way! An glued, mordant, by the neck
to the silverback trotline ova beautifullyin Helen!
Sealed – sellin to business, bees an ants, all inna line!
Cygnalingo, bedeviled, delivered! Canalaesthetic!
Poe guy – he hadda heart too, bedamnit all.
Now looka here. [The hero is branded.]
(Bluejay slowly unfolded his other hand.)
Here's the po guy hisself. (Bluejay held up a small
clay figurine, with a strange odor all its own.)
You recognize this lil fella, Hen?
Looks alot like me I think, Bluejay. Now jussa mn. . .
Now donstart brayin yet, fraidycatman.
S'ain't no doodoo voodoo. We ben frammed before.
We been down that raven ravine longtime ago.
Cleftsided an footballed, bro.
In the dark backroom, venereal – è vero,
like you say. You dunno what chlorox to adder this
X-mass ovum pow-wow-womb, diz ya?
Sour familial? All-wand pseudo-I
undie this push-kin, miss!
Eddy Puss blandsidled it long-ass – he cowed, butt
the rudeness tangled widdow Door Event-u-alley,
an timespace shoes nary a limp channel I
reckon – Mrs. Sippy opposide Dr. Peppy
inna noir murmur old ironsides hisself turnaback
flowards an flipsides th'nigredo punskips up
shit creek – cow, cow, cows-a-munch, yo loveship –
an the brownpie floats there, outa spacewhacked
until Yoi reconnoitre th'gnarlin toiletry an
throwda whole roll atcha! First plata X-cream
mint showplace sternwheeloid rhodeboateemin
wid uncountable fireatin rainboids–coquestrian!
I screamblack CONES an you screamback SCONES
an we hip scotch the holefulla hopefulship
coupla navvies in skivvies – dip
inside! Sheesh! MOANS!
Cause y'node the sunk uncleship wuz all relative.
Y'darkielove was hid froth'alltime, missin clayblack
bottomland – blind manor woman inna shirtcotton sack.
An you takin up the rear always, same as you give.
Causes you malingerin luster glimmerstill inna shadow.
An miss th'marrowed missers an misters, foes ever.
An this bodily weak by weakerness seam to sever
th'po from th'opuss an th'bit o'honey from th'O-bow.
An the po thing – the lil figurino in muh hand –
the lil man o'flush – the lil piss biscuit –
the lil foolghoul – the lil fiery missit –
the IiI wastrelily – the lil white dry dachshund –
getta blame for blame, an lame for lame –
the peepers needa close call on some body other
wise no body node the how-to trouble-eye mother
forkin crybooby gonna fine the pad to came
an gone all ready to travail an labor updown a gain
O nuns O lossa marriageers ovum the privateers an
weed all rank the general woe buttween them tears
inna sheets inna draindrop drown byenbyenbyebyears.
You done yet, Jaybird? You one raven manxiac.
Still missin my tale? Well itsa leg foo young
fo juss fo you, hon. I loves ya, been wellmade hung,
lassoo. But pert soon, the po-plucky dawn gone break –
we best be movin on.
Bluejay moved out of his shadow.
Over his head, a strange halo –
no – trapdoor? Bluejay was mutterin
while they climbed up rusty rungs like barbells.
You got a thing about bums, man. . .
Tear the hinges off the doors, Hen. . .
Have a cow about insisting then, you swells. . .
Apple's got yo fly...
Keep housin flushes to yoself. . .
But don't botha me wid yo mouf. . .
I seen everthin. . . butt th’bottom ov the sea. . .
– humming low now. Henry couldn't understand.
They passed a pile of whupped wash, on top
of a Neapolitan bootie – then a lad in a golden jalop
called out – this way to Disney World! and
flew into a sandstorm. They kept climbing,
rung by rung, like a couple of bull
terriers. The passageway all
fetid, narrowing –
cried Bluejay – suddenly there!
In the fresh air!
On a hilltop – by the Carrie Tower!
How'd we get here, from the railroad tunnel?
Henry asked. (R2 + J2)X = Homer!
yelled his buddy. Here we are!
And Henry said – well, well!
We sure married the merde back there –
but it's good to see the sea!
It was marvelous, indeed.
The early morning, silvergray bluegreen, clear –
far south, across the Bay, they could see ships sailing –
wide-open spaces – a roserusty weathervane
turned, silently, in the frisky breeze – then
Henry noted, across the street, on the curving
marble of the Lovecraft lepertaph, some ghoul
had glued the black-white Athenaeum shot of Poe
– torn from a library book, no doubt – oh,
these college kids! – telling tales out of school. . .
But now he heard Bluejay again, his voice hesitant
and quieter. – guess you be pretty sophisticated now
you know awhole lot mo about black holes – so
yeah, fo sho – we done cleft that raven venus tent –
but love – LOVE, that somethin else – Strong as Death,
the proverb say – indeed, yeah. See down there –
the jailhouse door where the ol man stayed – scares
me, man! See, they puts me there sho as you breathe,
an fo what? Some vague vagrancy charges, man –
people like me, a lil crazy, now – they juss lockdown –
it ain't right, I ain't done nothin wrong – it a sin, man!
They gots mo jails than hospitals, Hen!
This is yo place, ain't it? Jailhouse Rock?
The white man's doodaddy? Oughta be ashamed.
Po Dorr, he din think juss ov hisself – tamed
his lustin, that one! He know'd love ain't some ad hoc
bull! Noman, he was ready!
An I gotta be ready, too.
See that gaolfinch circlin roun you,
roun an roun. . . she love that copper-daddy,
she know what love is too, that one!
Yo heart goes out, man – not juss yo roostathang!
But if you don' know by now... I'm takin wing
m'self soon. Gravity, man – got nothin on
me. No lockup today. An look ove yonder –
a raven was flying SW, over the hillside face,
still veiled in shadow. That fella – gonna race
him now! – that Cautantowwit – onna timebender.
S'long Henry – y'on yo own now, for awhile.
Mebbe see you later. Before he could say a word,
Bluejay flew – speeding after the blackbird,
crying – jay! jay! jay! – mile after mile, after mile. . .
into the distance. The sun rose slowly over the spine
of the ridge, and lightrays bent downward
until they touched the gold dome, by the old
stony Providence riverbank – half in river, half in
air. . . and gleamed like a goldenblind
sunspot in Henry's eye. And a woman in a mint-
new copperosegreen pennycoat walked there – intent
on the rhody ahead, in perfect workadaylight (her kind).
Dante Alighieri, outside John Hay Library (Brown University)
Mary Magdalene, by Lippo Memmi (RISD Museum)
Carrie Tower (motto on base : "Love is Strong as Death")
Bluejay this morning