Beowulf in Hell

by Kyle Muntz


They strung him up,                stowed on the balcony,

and beat him with sticks,        and beat him with rocks,

and bent his muscles,             and bared his insides,

They said, “We shall               teach you what it means

to be a man.”                           Beyond the rafters,

muted by numbers,                 many cackled.

They drank blood                    drained from small children,

they drank the rainwater         of distant countries,

they spat bits of their              own children,

they sang fragments                of songs everyone else

had already forgotten.            All across the hall,

small animals scurried,            clasping breadcrumbs

between their teeth.                Winds blasted the clouds,

thunder sheered the clouds.    Thousands of miles

away, mountains were             waking up. Mountains

began to walk,                         bringing with them  

the mountain paths,                 the many outlying

trees. Beowulf looked             at his innards, and

he said, “They are a soup,       to be a man

is to be soup,                           to be a goat,

to be a sheep,                          to be an ox,

to be a piece of string,             to be cattle,

to be the handle of axe,          to be the baying of wolves,

to be the reek                          of dung drying

in the stables                           late in the evening

when the children have           already gone inside,

as wind settles in                     across the fields,

and dew hovers                       above the leaves

and thoughts shiver                 quietly in the coming

moonlight, the hours               shuffle, the earth

turns, the calf                          bleeds, the woman

bleeds, the man                       shits, the boy dies,

the boy dies, the boy               dies, the flower

curls, the lakes cool,                the stove cools,

the bread hardens,                   and flies settle

fitly above the remains            of the battlefield.

Yes,” Beowulf says,               “that is what it

means, to be a man—”            and coughs—

“that is it means                      to be a life,

to sprout like a limb,               to live like a beast,

to gnaw like a wolf,                to die like a dog.

I am dying like a dog              right now. I am

the moss settling                     on a log, chaffing

against the water.                    There is no God

there was never a God,           there was never a battle,

there was never                       a throne, there was

never a monster.”                    He seethes, and feels

like a tree, being                      felled in the center

of a forest. He imagines          the animals in their dens.

A small child spits                   in his face. It was

a girl. Her face is small,           her body is small;

she crushes him                       like a boulder, dropped

from high                                upon the rocks.