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 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
"Questo Muro" by Anita Barrows. Text as posted at On Being (February 26, 2009). Used with permission of the poet.
In her interview with On Being host Krista Tippett, the poet explained, "[Questo Muro] is a phrase from a passage in Dante's Purgatory. Dante has been in the depths of depression, in the depths of the inferno, and he's now working his way out of it toward Beatrice, who is—you know, you could call her the soul or the anima. And he and Virgil are climbing the mountain, and all of a sudden they get to a wall of fire, and you can't go any farther unless you go through it.... it really is a poem, I think, about finding the courage to persist, to go through that fire."
Art credit: "Flames," photograph by Zig117.