DA Denckla

Hotel of Woe


I am reading (re-reading?) Dante's Inferno

a new translation in current American-English idiom*

I read about Hell's second circle — The Hotel of Woe.

Desperate sobbing reaches the poet's ears

treading alongside his ancient bard spirit guide —Virgil.

Minos, the demon gatekeeper, warns them—

"The door is always open here."

and "Don't hold back," and — growling —

"That's enough, just give up."

Voices groan, spewing up flecks of phlegm

shrieking —"Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

I'm fucked! Fuck me! Fuck me harder!"

The tormented wailers suffer from an "irresistible will."

"Those whose ravenous appetite for carnal knowledge

Allowed lust to triumph over reason."

I could distance myself from this arcane text

written in 13th Century Florence —

steeped in damnation-salvation cosmology. It could seem far off.


Yet this uncanny Hotel (and its many franchises)

strikes me as oddly familiar — a place that I've visited before

where I uttered my own moans and sighs

— first in loud satisfaction and then in quieter self-loathing

spraying my infantile spittle all around a lowlit lowlife world

of rims and cocks and lips and strangers who remain unknown.

Lonely La Quinta Inn, Third Avenue, Brooklyn

stumbling into a room darkened during an already gray day

encountering a skinny muscular ass up face down drag queen

Wearing a green neon mesh spandex skirt hiked up high on the thigh

who was watching R&B music videos on the flat screen

and smoking reefer as I buried my shame — on request.

The Brooklyn Motor Inn hard up on the edge

of grinding traffic of Brooklyn Queens Expressway

where a muscled crossdresser in see-thru black lingerie

Waited at 1 AM in a wavy black wig — begging on his knees for raw comfort

to be treated like a lady bottom — which he says he craves on the DL

though he confesses he has a boyfriend whom he usually tops.

Bklyn House Hotel — lobby stale reeking of skunk weed

a saketini bar maid traipsed over after her shift ended

and we sloshed around in that damp fluorescent concrete cave.

Holiday Inn Express Bushwick for a quickie

with a skinny City College grad student — both of us on lunch hours

She told me to hurry up. She had to meet her BF. He's a dealer —she explained.

The Williamsburg Hotel with its sleek design and rooftop pool

a perfect setup for a romantic affair with a moody trans cam girl poet

met on the sly upon return from a European trip with my now-ex.

The Doubletree Wall Street for an unexpected threesome

announced at the threshold by a voyeuristic boyfriend

who wanted to watch me make ends meet with his petite beau.

His guy all dolled up like Britney Spears, plaid mini skirt, white stockings,

pink bubblegum lipstick, pancake makeup, fake blonde curls.

He slipped me his number afterwards. We hooked up another day at Wall Street Inn.

The Penn Hotel in crowded, anonymous Chelsea. My liaison told me to sneak in.

"Don't say where you're going, just come up in the elevator," she instructed.

I went to meet a West Coast trans porn star. I was obsessed with her — nothing came of it.

Midtown Manhattan — The Warwick, The Lowes Regency

The Manhattan Club, The Shoreham, The St. Regis, The Sheraton Times Square

The Park Central, The Hilton Garden Inn and other names I can't remember.

I recall blowjobs —crimson traces on my skin— staining my shorts. Damn spot.

Side tables littered with lube tubes. Popper vials. Ripped condom foil confetti.

Dildos, vibrators laid inert on dressers. Harnesses. Greasy take-out containers.


My travels to and fro The Hotel of Woe

may seem to trace titillating stock scenes of deepest desires fulfilled

— we are primed to be aroused by these "money shots" and thin porn plots.

We linger longingly on tales of sport-fucking in furtive darkness

— yet these casual encounters were more desperation compelled

unable to stop putting myself at risk — placing my body in harm's way.

Constant app swiping consumed my free time — stole my focus

Elaborate cover-up lying drained my creative energy — a ghost with no reflection.

My head felt inflated with gas —pressuring my eyes — unable to think straight.

Sneaking around made me excited — shivering with adrenaline— mouth parched

My enervation arose more from anxious dread than joyful anticipation —

from fear I could not stop —though I wanted to stop— scared I'd be late, missed, caught.

I lurked around lobbies in denial of this double life I'd dreamed up

Wanting to forget. I'd walk out onto the street or avenue, smooth my shirt down

and act as if I'd never been there. And, in a sense, I hadn't.

I imprisoned my dueling dual desires

barred them from being seen in public at the same time

released only to do hard labor on the outskirts of town.

I would not free myself

I acted out fantasies in liminal spaces

cheating on a girlfriend or a wife

— cheating myself of being OK with myself

I made the urges rising within me feel ugly

hiding them away in a shadowy half-life demimonde

I treated my body like it could be severed

divided into separate pieces each with its own identity

I'd share dick pics like a headless horseman — like so many others do.

Some recipients recoiled in disgust — a heartfelt response —

being presented with depictions of dismembered desire is horrifying

I was hurt I was scolded and unliked and reported and blocked.

My will impelled my meat to keep prowling ahead of my head

heartless — advancing like a prone carcass impaled on a conveyor belt

processed again and again and unable to really get off.

Deceitful, compulsive and closeted

I had acted out with abandon

— unprotected, unfaithful, unconscious.


My marriage fell apart in finger pointing.

My rebound girlfriend read my doppelganger diary and left crying.

And I slowly began grinding my teeth to dust. I got a night guard.

I hissed "Who are you?" at my mirror reflection

Slowly I let myself witness blue moons under my eyes — tired from running away

I began to re-possess parts of me that were inconvenient, impulsive, ill-fitting.

Disintegrated, divorced and alone in those dim dull days

I watched the Pride Parade in the West Village march past me— numb.

the liberated leather daddys and the defiantly shirtless lesbians — gleeful.

A trans woman in a golden unitard twirled around before me

trailing pink and yellow streamers. She leaned over the galvanized barricade

touching my forehead gently with one of her satin-wrapped magic wands.

I dreamed about her thereafter — wondering why she chose me.

I had ogled her lush form — Maybe she'd caught me looking?

Or maybe she recognized a hunger in me — a need to accept transformation.


Today, as a counterpoint to Dante's Inferno,

I am also reading Bocaccio's Decameron

a popular tome during the recent pandemic quarantines.

Bocaccio recounts elite urbanites retreating upstate

to wait out the worst of the Black Plague

and regale each other with ten tall tales each day.

To my surprise — the entire book is about fucking

and being fucked — bawdy fucking euphemisms

subterfuges to hide fucking — tricks to get fucked.

Men fucking women — women fucking men,

openly lusting after other people's spouses

how to get away with adultery — how men seduce boys.

Dante's Florence of severe eternal judgment

and terrestrial sinners seems to have faded away

transforming into Bocaccio's Florence

Bursting with colorful liars and philanders getting away with it

Doing the deed. The counterpoint settles in my psyche

as somehow similar to my own doubled experience and my change.


It's all too easy to view secret sex acts

as shameful, self-hating and sad

steeped in the sinful evil paradigm

And it's also too easy to see these sensual acts

as adventurous, self-discovering and exuberant

celebrated in the find yourself in pleasure paradigm.

Neither paradigm is true. Neither fits my skin.

These are frames others build around their own sense of self.

And they will nail this wood around my words to satisfy their bias.

Now I daily devote myself to balancing acts

hard-won honesty about the multitudes I contain — and can't contain

Freeing myself to be as complicated as I want to be — as I am. Erring.

I guess I am a "Florentine"

which is the word that the harsh judgey Germans

coined for bisexuals after Bocaccio's libertine era.

I am a masculine-acting cis-man

who avoids organized sports and video games

while seeking poetry, modern dance and The Smiths.

I love a woman who knows where I have been

in so many different beds with all sorts of men and women

some unknowns and others who prefer no labels.


And here, finally, I record my pain of recognition

my oft repeated visits to Hell's second circle, like Dante,

how I was tortured as one of those siren souls suffering down there.

Like those lost souls, I was cursing God and myself

in sputtered, growling hatespeech — blaming everyone but me

rejecting life's terms and visiting dark corners of loathing.

I am emerging from my self-imposed exile in the underworld

I was granted access to the surface when I admitted I was being human

a clueless sex tourist visiting this world for a minute — all fury and folly.

I can live easier with myself. I can live with myself.

Less woe and more wonders.

More driven to love than running from fear.

I would rather never disappear again

crawling along those empty corridors —scanning for a room number

scrambling for an open door. "The door is always open here." Echoes.

So many times I had been wishing — to be invited within

to move inside a darkened place — switch myself off completely

— where I could abandon all hope upon entering there.

No. Standing alone in a dark wood

in the middle of our lives —

This is not a place to stay, awaiting death.

Yes. I'd rather keep being here, now —

making moves — confused but patched together again both

totally broken and wholly alive in body and light and space and air.

* Divine Comedy: Inferno, Dante Aligheri, translated by Mary Jo Bang (2020)

DA Denckla is an artist, curator and teacher of Creative Writing at Los Angeles Film School. His work champions lost causes, forgotten legacies and quixotic proto-romanticism. He plays with text, sound and image, as much as he can. Or, as much as they will let him. Founder of @PraxinoscopeX — an artist-led platform presenting and documenting innovative live performances on stage, in print and via podcast. Poems forthcoming: Iowa Review (2022); Mudfish (2023). A grown-up D.C. emo-punk, peacenik, treehugger. He has haltingly returned to a Life in the Ars Poetica after a painfully flawed multi-year campaign to achieve professional “suckcess” —having hoped, co-dependently, to please his Hebrew ancestors. Now, he studies Torah instead. And, he lives with his partner and their many plants in a railroad flat carved into a Victorian-era hospital in Los Angeles, CA, where he waits patiently for the End of the World while watching the sun set over skyscrapers. Insta: @derekdenckla