The Devil's Country - Poem by Theresa Haffner
'We go by a secret path along the rim
of the dark city between the wall and the torments.
My master leads me and I follow him.'
- Dante, THE INFERNO
There are two streams, by virtue kept separate from one another, the streams of darkness and the light. And within each stream is contained its opposite. The light within the darkness, and the darkness in the light.
Paradise wasn't lost, nor our passage from the Dark Kingdoms regained, in a single day.
No sooner had we made our descent along the steep cliffs above the walled city than the paths above us were barred for our return.
My master leads me and I follow him.
How long we lived as captives in the walled city. How many years? How many seasons in Hell?
And though we were not condemned, our indoctrination begun.
My master speaks and I listen.
The gates to the Dark Kingdoms are the physical senses, one each the sight and hearing, one the sense of smell, one the taste, one the touch, and the openings of impregnation and elimination.
My master teaches and I learn from him.
Seven Kingdoms, ruled by seven princes, each more powerful than the one before.
And the more powerful the dominion, the stronger my restraints.
The princes are Archons, powerful archangels who rule with might and impunity.
Our gods are meant to act as figureheads, to remain aloof. Not to interact in the affairs of their subjects.
That responsibility was left to the demons, who were given the authority to enforce judgments and impose sentences.
They held the keys to the captivity and ruled the affairs of the governed arbitrarily and for their own gain.
My master commands and I obey.
By day I lived the life of an ordinary human being, average of appearance, moderate in every way.
By night, in dreams, I served the Dark Lord as a member of the Corporal Guard.
I lived in the Devil's Country.
I was educated in the Devil's schools.
I was apprenticed in the Devil's workshop and dined in the Devil's Kitchen.
I was trained as a horseman, and acted as an escort for those souls who had lost their way, helping them across the abyss and guiding them to the capitol city.
The inhabitants of the Dark Kingdoms are the Archons, the demons, elemental spirits, the souls of the dead, astral projections of mystics and occult masters during out of the body experiences, and ordinary people who access the Dark Kingdoms at night during dreams.
I was instructed in the Black Arts and became skilled in the practice of magic.
But although my magic was powerful, the higher teachings were forbidden to me.
Then one day, for the love of a woman, I disobeyed my master.
I learned that my master had lied to me.
So I murdered him.
I could no longer stay in the Dark Kingdoms. The Corporal Guard would hunt me down as a criminal and kill me.
Yet I knew if I crossed the abyss, I would never be allowed to return.
I did not want to leave the woman behind.
'You must fly on the Wings of Darkness, ' she told me. 'I will follow when I can.'
The Souls of the Dead[i] are imprisoned in the Dark Kingdoms by the love of the people who knew them during life.
They are prevented from leaving by the very love that wants them to be free.
I broke free of my leather restraints and crashed through the bars that confined them.
'I set you free, Daphne, [ii]' I cried as I broke open the bars of her cage. 'You are free! '
'Joe Albany, [iii] I set you free! ' I cried as I broke the cell door of the great pianist.
'Walter Lacey, [iv]' I cried to the poet/performer, 'You do not have to be confined! ' I broke through the bars and chopped through the ice that was frozen up to his waist.
'Douglas Carlyon, [v]' the most special, 'You are released. You are free to leave. Go. Fly. Flee the Dark Kingdom.'
'My mother and father, [vi] I am sorry for imprisoning you. I am so sorry. Please forgive me.'
Tears welled in my eyes. I continued opening cells until all the Souls of the Dead were released.
I donned the black hooded cloak that I wore. Then I mounted my trusty steed and took to the sky. I beat a line above the rooftops and minarets of the walled city, beneath the low clouds, across the hills, toward the distant horizon.
The Corporal Guard was hot in my pursuit. I could hear the pounding of their horses' hooves, feel the hot breath in their nostrils. I could see the hooded riders, their blazing red eyes.
I heard the woman's voice at my inner ear.
'You were born in the Devil's Country, but you're not the Devil's Child, ' she told me.
'So journey until tomorrow, and never come back, ' she told me as I neared the Abyss, 'until the morning's light! '
Poet's Notes about The Poem
[i] Souls of the Dead. This section was added later, after the rest of the composition had been completed for several years. In it I used the names of actual people who will be unfamiliar to most readers but who played an important role in my life and whose mention brings about an emotional response in me. I will briefly explain their relationship to me.
[ii] Daphne. Daphne Clarke-Zaleska sang professionally with some of the best known jazz artists and had been married to saxophonist Art Pepper. I became her accompanist, then her music partner and best friend for many years until her death in 1993.
[iii] Joe Albany, the great pianist, played and recorded with Charlie Parker, Lester Young, and Miles Davis as well as in his own name. I became his protégé, then his lover and long time friend. He died in 1981.
[iv] Walter Lacey. A well known poet/performer and recording artist influential in the Stand-Up Poetry Movement in Los Angeles. I worked with him as musical accompanist for night club engagements and collaborated with him for poetry publishing and recording. He died in 1992.
[v] Douglas Carlyon. My significant other and life companion for 18 years. He died in 2002.
[vi] My father died when I was 16. My mother died when I was 25, in 1970.
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