‘What is the measure of Hell,
how thick is its veil,
how wide is its mouth,
how big are its baths?’
The First Address of Taliesin
You take a tape measure
long enough to wrap around the Earth,
stretch to the moon, encircle Pluto,
Sedna, but it isn’t long enough.
You learn to count to infinity
and beyond, but still cannot tell
East from West, North from South,
keep returning to the same stile
as if under a sorcerer’s spell.
What is the measure of Hell?
You wander lost in the mist,
treading broken shards of rulers
and protractors unable to grasp
the distance between your face
and trembling outstretched hand.
Spun and blindfolded you fail
to measure the sunless shadows.
Groping like Blind Man’s Bluff,
thwarted, you break, wail,
“How thick is its veil?”
And then you’re swallowed.
You’ve seen the monster in a book:
dog’s head, two serpent’s tails,
red nose, Cheshire cat grin.
It opens its jaws. You’re in
a cavern with no floor, roof,
swept down a ravening gorge
into a deep belly that devours
scientific truth and untruth.
How wide is its mouth?
Your question makes no sense
when you’re washed up on a shore
with hundreds of naked souls,
emptied of pockets, your notebook
floating away like a dead flatfish.
In the Tsunami’s aftermath
you realise you have lost your tape,
calculator, are forgetting how to
count, open your mouth, ask,
“How big are its baths?”