Dan & Verge Visit the Stamp Show
by Ken Perkins

Room I

In the middle of my life I awoke
In a dark forest, having lost
The straightforward path.1

But I met my old friend
Verge, who promised
To lead me out of this hell.

After passing through strange places,
As we strolled along a peaceful street,
We came upon a large sign.

‘Stamp Show’, it read
Directing us to enter a
Small, low building.

Upon entering, we were greeted
By a smiling man who was seated,
Surrounded by bottles of wine.

“Welcome to our show!” he exclaimed,
Offering us a chance to purchase
Tickets to win prizes, such as the wines.

Lacking any local currency,
We had to turn him down,
But gladly accepted a program.

Room II

The program showed a number of rooms,
One little room down the hall to our left
Was labeled ‘Youth’.

“Perhaps we can find our lost youth
There”, I told Verge, who morosely
Answered “I don’t think so.”

But we walked down the long hallway
To the small room, where we beheld
Many children sorting little pieces of paper.

Upon noting the tiny letters, numbers,
And portraits on the papers,
We both exclaimed “What are these?”

The grey-beard in charge of the room
Explained, “They’re postage stamps.
They pay to have letters sent.”

“But they are not sending letters now.”
I told him, “So what value do they have
To these poor children?”

“Oh, none.” the grey-beard exclaimed
“The children just collect them
For the fun of it.”

Verge, adopting a serious tone,
Reminded the grey-beard of what befell
Socrates for corrupting Athens’ youth.

Room III

Leaving the ill-used children behind,
We entered the next room,
The largest in the building.

In its center we beheld rows of displays,
Surrounded by low tables covered with
Boxes, and these tiny colored ‘stamps’.

The displays seemed to attract no one,
But the tables were occupied by old men
Studiously examining small envelopes.

Coming closer to a table, we saw stacks
Of small red boxes, all with labels,
Containing rows of the small envelopes.

The envelopes had transparent fronts,
Which allowed us to see that each held
One or more ‘stamps.’

The ‘stamps’ and boxes carried names,
Some of which we recognized, but many
Were completely new to both of us.

Each envelope bore a name, a cryptic number,
Some other strange cyphers,
And what apparently was a price.

From time-to-time, one of the old men
Seated at the tables would ask the people
Behind the tables a question.

Or hold a long discussion about
‘Perforations’ or ‘catalog numbers,’
Often ending with a discussion of price.

Verge offered that this strange scene reminded him of the Temple in Jerusalem,
With its buying and selling.

“Nothing good can come of this,” he muttered,
“It reeks of avarice and greed;
This must be one of the circles of hell.”

Room IV

As we were exiting this disturbing hall,
We saw a small anteroom
With a sign advertising food.

In it we beheld poor men and women
Assembling bread, meats, and unrecognizable items onto plates of paper.

In the center of the room was a
Monstrous stove for roasting those same
Poor enslaved souls when they were done.

“Ah, this must be punishment for some sin,
Perhaps gluttony,” my guide told me,
“Making this the third circle of hell.”

Room V

Taking our leave of this sad view,
We once again found ourselves in the hall
And proceeded to the ‘Silent Auction Room.’

Entering it, a man seated at a small table
Asked us if we wanted a bidder number:
“You can only bid if you have a number.”

Politely declining his kind offer, we entered,
Noticing that it was filled with long tables
Surrounded by old men with heads bowed.

Taking this to be some private mourning ceremony,
We made a hasty exit, only to be asked
If anything was of interest.

If so, we were told, we could bid on it,
And if we were the highest bidder,
We would win the item.

“This sounds like gambling to me.” I told Verge,
“Surely one of the many sins
Of which we have been warned.”

We left quickly, looking back to see if the
Building was indeed labeled
“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

But saw instead that over the building,
Lifted in the fair breeze, was a flag
Of red, white, and blue, with stars.

Author’s note: Composed with guidance from, and apologise to, Dante Alighieri. The immediate seed of the idea for this attempt was planted by Seymour Chwast’s Dante’s Divine Comedy, a 2010 graphic novel. There are many fine editions of Dante’s work, among them is the on-line Princeton Dante Project, with a line-for-line translation at http://tinyurl.com/PrincetonDante