… at the midpoint of the journey of life, I found myself in a dark forest, for the clear path was lost.
—Dante Alighieri, Inferno
All roads to Hell start like this, Dante tells
us. The path into purgatory, though,
the ghost realm, is much more difficult. Hell’s
Nine Circles are sick and flash, we all know
Hellz da bomb. Limbo, though, is a bus ride.
We wound through the farms on the Hrazdan,
then north, near Aragats. I had no guide,
no blessed Virgil. I could not speak more than
baby-words. But, as the bus turned the last
mountain pass, there it was spread out below:
empty, vast, flat. A gray valley so vast
it was all horizon. But there—a glow
on the edge—ghost ruin that had survived
the ’88 earthquake—I had arrived.
Inferno is the first part of Dante’s epic poem Divine Comedy. It is an allegory telling of the journey Dante took through Hell, guided by the soul of the Roman poet, Virgil.
Hrazdan is a river that flows through the Ararat valley, irrigating many apricot orchards and farmland. It divides the city of Yerevan in half. Once, during a very drunken party, a bunch of us Americans went skinny dipping in the river because what’s the point of having a river in your city if you can’t strip off all your clothes and jump in it now and then?
Mt. Aragats is the highest peak in Armenia, forming part of a mountain chain that separates Gyumri from Yerevan. To travel between the two cities required me taking a big red autobus that traveled roughly 15 miles an hour, it felt like, worming its way up and down high mountain roads. The city I refer to at the end of the poem is Gyumri, which in 1988 was totally destroyed in an earthquake that killed 25,000 people. When I arrived seven years later it was still rubble, looking like something out of a war movie.