Questo Muro

Quando mi vide star pur fermo e duro
turbato un poco disse: “Or vedi figlio:
tra Beatrice e te è questo muro.”

(When he [Virgil] saw me standing there unmoving,
he was a bit disturbed and said, “Now look, son,
between Beatrice and you there is this wall.”)
— Dante, Purgatorio XXVII

You will come at a turning of the trail
to a wall of flame

After the hard climb & the exhausted dreaming
you will come to a place where he
with whom you have walked this far
will stop, will stand

beside you on the treacherous steep path
& stare as you shiver at the moving wall, the flame
that blocks your vision of what
comes after. And that one
who you thought would accompany you always,
who held your face
tenderly a little while in his hands—
who pressed the palms of his hands into drenched grass
& washed from your cheeks the soot, the tear-tracks—

he is telling you now
that all that stands between you
& everything you have known since the beginning

is this: this wall. Between yourself
& the beloved, between yourself & your joy,
the riverbank swaying with wildflowers, the shaft

of sunlight on the rock, the song.
Will you pass through it now, will you let it consume

whatever solidness this is
you call your life, & send
you out, a tremor of heat,

a radiance, a changed
flickering thing?

“Questo Muro” from Kindred Flame by Anita Barrows. Copyright © 2010 by Anita Barrows. Used with permission of the poet.

This poem was originally read in the On Being episode “The Soul in Depression.”