Gregory MacDonald ~ Hell: A Painting

I heard the hearse wheeling from afar
Its man masked ringed out silence with his black bell, but
All smoldering faces to the earth had fell—their skin coated in tar.
I darted over nearside the tallow bodies, to wallow in wooden decay.
Our executioner descended off the gallows, with his axe waved me away.
Though I managed as the bodies to their boxes flailed,
To nibble off a hangnail.

In flitting the frosted blast of deathless aether,
My feathers changed to wan white as I weathered my airy course.
My eye espied from vantage, moving with life unlike the rest,
As acid fired down in unholy hail upon their skeletal chests!
I shakily sheltered under the hearse
While their conditions above withered to worse.
Below remained an unchaste chasm, where fangs lurked deep,
Where ghouls pierced angels with hooks in an abominable world underneath.

One soul alone who washed onto the Styx riverbank,
Ravenous she seemed with her pale heart open, drank and drank and drank.
Beside her another less corporeal revenant
Devoured her elements like she did those shards divinely sent,
Coiled round her as serpents do their prey, she, lost to deliverance, with life-pangs writhed!
Luminescent locusts swarmed over, reduced to ash the two unforgiven lovers,
The violet sun blazing behind the insect horde with all might tried to rise,
But the lord fell back down the horizon’s void, into shadowless depths and dies!

A river specter-spattered, with holes in its ghostly foams,
Cracks in its willowy streams, united the spirits all moan,
They the remnants of an astral lamentation.
To their souls I have vowed my talons to wed.
Vengeful the dark gods watched my machinations
And to appease I direly trilled a dirge in my crow tongue,
Echoing the wails of my drowned kinsmen:

“Vice creeps within my bones,
My skull—it groans; my skull moans!
Ice sweeps through my veins,
My heart—it strains; my heart wanes!
Soul, o soul, you have left me home,
And I fear, I fear, I have lost my most precious pain.”

The Thing


  1. This poem, “Hell: A Painting,” by Gregory Macdonald combines qualities that are rarely able to work together — true horror and compassion. It is reminiscent of the visual art of Hieronymus Bosch — with an additional experiential level which is that of being both participant and observer. Truly great poem!

  2. We spoke about intellectual crises and you linked me to this poem. Wondering if we were disconnected too soon.

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