A Layer for the Lawmakers, by Kai da Luz
A Dantesque canto criticizing restrictive immigration legislation.
We took our leave from that last horrid layer
and tried to shake its sodden dirt from our boots,
though it clung to them with a certain heaviness,
leaving a stain on the soles and our souls.
Nonetheless, we dropped to the next destination
peeling back the skin of hell like an onion,
rotting with pungent and putrid odors,
bringing tears to my eyes all the same.
At this new level, the air was even less palatable than
before. The hot, arid wind forced one’s body to sweat
profusely, providing the air with the water it craved.
Like a dog starved and parched beyond sanity,
it lapped the salty water off our skin with great thirst.
The surface on which we walked was rocky and more
desperate than the air. The most skilled of masons
would not have been able to part the ground an inch.
It refused to move and refused to allow movement.
The few trees that dotted the terrain were as
unfortunate as the souls that inhabited this layer.
The trees’ leafy skin was without color.
Their roots protruded from the earth, telling the story
the long years of struggle between tree and captor.
The roots lifted the twisted bodies of the trees from the
ground, a desperate attempt to separate themselves
from the rocky terrain. They were all bent leaning in
the same direction toward the end of this stretch of
suffering where a wall of gold and silver painted the
horizon. The glimmer as the hellish sun shone down
upon it was both intoxicating and uninviting. The
gilded, grotesque structure stood taller than the titans of
old. From our height, we could see the land beyond the
barrier. The monstrous wall worked to block a stretch
of land inside its borders from the unforgiving sun.
Within the shadow, the air seemed less arid and the
trees more content, their branches spotted with fruits (1)
whose skin glistened gold from the wall's reflection.
The ground appeared like it would give a little under
the natural weight of man, unlike the stubborn terrain
that engulfed the land outside the wall. Even as I
strained my vision, I could not see any souls that
inhabited the land within the wall’s borders. Virgil saw
my gaze and guided my eyes towards the outer crest of
the wall, where the outline of many souls hugged the
wall's base, unmoving as if they were tethered by
heavy unrelenting chains. Even in their current state,
their constant yearning to be on the other side was
evident. I gathered myself and addressed my master.
“I wish to get close to those whose eternity is wasted in
this desolate landscape, forever teased by the respite
beyond the wall.” Virgil nodded his head and we both
deviated from our path to get closer to these
unfortunate souls. As we approached the gathering,
I noticed more about the sinners that inhabited this
Their skin was burned and robbed of all moisture.
It seemed just as deprived as the air itself, gladly parting
ways with their bodies, peeling and falling to the floor
as a hard shell falls from a boiled egg, leaving the egg
soft and vulnerable. After their fresh skin spent a day
baking in the sun, supple flesh dried and calcified to be
shed all the same. Letters and numbers could be found
scorched deep into their foreheads, much like a
cattleman brands his steads, for these men in both
nature and appearance more closely resembled such
beasts than having ever belonged to society. One man
to my left had the designation GA-83 (2) written across
his fleshy crown. I urged myself closer to him, using
my words to get his attention. They pushed their way
out of my strangling lips with much difficulty, as if
the air itself only reluctantly permitted me to speak.
“You sir, why do you spend your days idling by this
wall? Why don’t you try to surpass it and reach the
salvation of the land beyond its borders?”
GA-83 glared at me with a tired expression. A great
desire to speak pained his face, yet no words escaped
his mouth as he stood crookedly in silence. Virgil
moved so that he stood on my wing as he addressed me
with a knowing voice.
“Those who occupy this plain have their tongues tied in
a multitude of knots. Language has thus become a
stranger to them. They are prevented from spreading
the fear instilling lies they spoke in the world above,
and the whispers they breathed behind closed doors.”
GA-83 shook his head in accordance and raised one
emaciated finger in response to my inquiry. His limb
landed on a grotesque figure, one of many that stood
between the sinners and the surface of the wall. The
beasts boasted the heads of elephants, their splintered
yellow tusks glistening powerfully in the sun. Their
skin of leather wrapped around their fat physique.
Where legs should have been, their body grew scaly
and narrowed to form a snake-like tail. They were
dressed in pompous suit jackets with ties stained red by
blood wound around their necks to complete the
ensemble. Behind these beasts existed what appeared
to be a door in the wall, too small for anyone to pass
through with ease. Furthermore, papers with what
appeared to be legislation lined the creases of the door,
sealing it shut. Two sinners were prostrating
themselves before one of the tusked beasts, tears
unable to be shed from their bowed heads as no
moisture inhabited their pitiful corpses. On one’s head,
the designation TX-02 (3) was carved, though to call it a
head would be misleading. His face was so dry, burned,
and devoid of life that his features were lost forever.
The blank face of a man who was not a man. No one
would know his face here, as he was just another
number, another cog in a much larger machine without
identity or dignity. The man to his left, to my surprise,
was speaking rapidly, his cracked lips outpacing the
insistent thump of my heart as I witnessed the calamity
of the scene. “Master, why does this one speak? Is his
tongue not also tied like the rest?” My master replied,
“His tongue was tied following his punishment, but his
lips are more stubborn than the ground beneath our
feet, as above he spat words even more serpentine and
sinister than the tails of the tusked beasts before us.
Even the confines of this infernal level could not
silence his endless babble.” The man speaking was
slightly taller than TX-02 beside him. His fickle flesh
was also branded like his companion, as his forehead
read POTUS-45 (4). I moved closer in an attempt to
discern his speech. “Why must you prevent us from
crossing over, oh wise creature?” The one labeled
POTUS-45 lamented, “Why can we not pass beyond
this wall? There is plenty of room to share across this
border. These are people wasting away out here and
you won’t let them live, for what?” The tusked beast
flapped its tattered ears and straightened its
blood-soaked tie. It spoke in a mimicking tone in reply
to POTUS-45. “We must maintain law and order at the
highest level or we will cease to have a country" (5). The
beast spoke as if it did not see the sinner, or at least as
if it refused to. TX-02 stood up off the fruitless ground
and willed himself toward the door in the gilded wall.
With a simple turn of its head, the beast impaled
TX-02, tearing a hole in his chest, a sad parody for the
man had no blood left to bleed. He remained limp on
the creature's tusk, unable to take his eyes off the wall.
“You may not pass so easily. We cannot allow for such
a sweeping amnesty" (6). The beast proclaimed, each
word sending ripples along its fat, leathery skin. At this
POTUS-45 began crawling towards the beast, speaking
with great difficulty. “I am not like the rest of these
sinners. I have done nothing in my life but serve my
country and make it great again.” The beast adjusted its
suit coat as if the words of the sinner had simply
bounced off of the fine silk. It recited its last
proclamation as if it had been the only true thing the
beast knew. “These aren’t people. These are animals" (7).
At that my guide grabbed upon my sleeve, signifying it
was time to continue with our purpose.
Kai da Luz is a current freshman at Villanova and is from San Diego, California. He's majoring in Biochemistry and comes from a Portuguese/Chinese/Korean background. He is looking to get more involved with the English Department at Villanova and is considering minoring in Creative Writing.
(1) “branches spotted with fruits” is a nod to Tantalus, a figure from Greek mythology who was punished in Tartarus. He was trapped in a pool of water just barely too low to drink, with fruit above him too high to eat.
(2) “GA-83” is Georgia governor and a stout advocate for anti-immigration, Republican Brian Kemp. He became the 83rd governor of the state receiving more votes in 2018 than any other candidate for governor in the state’s history.
(3) “TX-02” is Texas senator John Cornyn who spoke out against the Democratic push for an immigration overhaul. He has held the office since his election in 2002.
(4) “POTUS-45” is the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump.
(5) “We must . . . country” is a direct quote from Donald Trump, uttered here by the beast instead.
(6) “We cannot allow . . . amnesty” is a portion of what John Cornyn said in response to Democratic immigration efforts, uttered by the beast, as similar to Trump’s quote.
(7) “These aren’t people. These are animals” is a well-known May 2018 Trump quote connected to immigration. It is pronounced by the beast to demonstrate the inherent irony and symmetry of punishment.