Bourbon Penn 2

Diary of the city of dis

by Joseph Avski

translated by Laura Cesarco Eglin

I walk around of the city of Dis.

There has been no daylight for years. Only cold. Only deformity. The Cerberuses disturb the darkness with their breath of hunters.

I walk into a bookstore.

It is a good place to begin a story about a writer.

Only used books.

I have decided to buy a 1942 edition of The City of God by Saint Augustine, translated from Latin into Spanish, and also, a diary without any visible reference to its author.

The diary is typewritten, except for the last page, which reveals a hurried and nervous handwriting. The handmade bookbinding is crude but strong. Pages are glued and sown to the jacket without any particular mark. There are many words and phrases that have been crossed out in the inside pages. Some of them have even been torn out. It is all written in first person.       

I get back home.

The streets are spattered with sulphur ashes mixed with snow.

I dust off my boots. They have some kind of stain. I do not remember where it comes from.

I smoked on my way home.          

I took the subway.

I have walked.

I have been someone else. Something like guilt has attacked me.

I have seen degradation and deformity in everyone around me.

I have borne cold.

I leave my boots by the door. I remember where the stain comes from. It is blood. An indelible mark.

• • •

I make coffee.

I sit by the window.

I read.

The City of God.

Eighth book.  

Chapter xiv.

Rational souls are divided into three: the divine souls, the demoniac souls, and the human souls. They inhabit creation in that same order, each kind of soul in its natural sphere. The divine ones are in the firmament, the demoniac ones (or the ones belonging to the winged demons) in the air, and the human ones on the earth. The merits of the three types of rational souls are also divided in this same order.

The demons, situated in the middle, share immortality with the gods, and souls’ passions with humans. Therefore, they are prone to the games and fallacy of poetry. 

• • •

I am another. I have scars from wounds that I have not received; I find my footsteps in places I have never been to.

I go out for a walk. I think of my story. It will be about treason. It will be the story of a swine. A man of Dis. It´s cold. The snow is melting. Swamp. People on the floor, crouching in corners. It has been years since the sun shone on the streets. In the past, it would exhaust itself on the buildings; now, it exhausts itself in the superior circles of Hell.

I go into a place. I order something to drink. Something warm. Coffee. The place is warm, but the cold that clings to my boots does not go away. It has been there for years.

I think of my character. He will live in this same city. He will feel the cold attacking his feet. He will see people as hidden corpses in the buildings’ geometries.

I walk out. I smoke. 

• • •

I make coffee.

I sit by the window.

I light a cigarette.

Diary, pages 1 to 68.

It is the days before the war. First person; the reader feels he is the narrative voice. The narrator was living at his best friend’s, Abel’s, and he was waiting for a chance to find a place of his own. Abel came from a rich family and had inherited a business that allowed him to live well and also support his friend for a while.

They go out together, to drink, to smoke, to look for women. They come back at dawn, each one with a partner; they share them.

They go to the movies, to museums, to bars, cafés, restaurants, to friends’, to libraries, to the port, to the wall, to the lookout, to brothels. They meet people. They talk. They exchange ideas. They predict the future, the past, the present. They lie. They smile. They argue.

They bear the cold-contaminated streets.

They bear the smoke-contaminated life.

They fall in love with the same woman, and they are both scorned.

They fall in love with different women, and they are both scorned.

They make plans to make money.

They make plans to spend money.

A woman comes into the scene.

• • •


I sit by the window.


The City of God.

First book.

Chapter v.

Saint Augustine says that the way Julius Cesar addressed the Senate regarding how war victors should act in the conquered cities is the following: “It is common in war to rape damsels, to steal from young men, to tear babies from their mothers’ breasts, to assault married women and mothers, and for the victors to fulfill any insolent craving that they may have. It is common for the victors to plunder the temples and houses, to brutally take everything. Finally, the streets, the squares….are full of weapons, dead bodies, spilled blood, confusion, wailing.”

• • •

It will be the story of two friends. They will dwell in the nadir, they will frequent whorehouses, they will drink. They will live as if they were looking for something, but they will not know what they are looking for. They will lose themselves in the maze-like mucky streets. A barren life.

The cold has diminished. There is no snow. I remember having walked these streets as another. Strangers greet me. They talk to me about moments we had together; I remember them well. It is people from another time, from the days before the city became filled with monstrous creatures, days before the war.

• • •

I make coffee.

I sit by the window.

The City of God.

Fourteenth book.          

Chapter iii.

It is not the body that is the cause of sin. The body is not unimportant. Our dwelling is the heavenly mansion that God has built, and it is there that we want to get to with our bodies. We want to reach immortality with them. What drowns us is the corruptibility of the body, and it is that which we want to get rid of.

Virgil believed that every soul descends from divinity and that within each soul the divine fire is kept. The body disrupts the soul and degrades it. He believed that the flesh is the cause of the soul´s four disruptions: fear, desire, happiness, and sadness. I learn that this is not so for Saint Augustine, who believes that it is a depraved soul which leads the body to perdition and vice.

 I understand that if it were solely the flesh that carried the guilt of our fondness for vice, it would not be the demon then who incites this taste, for the demon is of an incorporeal nature, and therefore, it is only through the soul that the demon can tempt us to vice and sin.

• • •

Saint Augustine never set foot on the streets of his city with blood-stained boots. My character did it or will do it. My character is a man from Dis.

A Cerberus has walked by these streets. He looks for human flesh. It is possible that he had been a man once.

Dis is the city of traitors:

         onde nel cerchio minore, ov’è ‘l punto

         de l’universo in su che Dite siede,

         qualunque trade in etterno è consunto1.

This is where we live.

• • •

I pour myself a drink.

I draw the curtain.

I light a cigarette.

Diary, pages 69 to 121.

A new character is portrayed in the diary: Laura.

One day, she moves in with Abel; the three of them live together. The house changes. Everything is tidy and clean; the furniture is arranged differently; the walls are filled with light. Life goes on.

 They go back to the bars, to the movies, to the museums, to the shore, the breakwater; sometimes, the three of them; sometimes Laura and Abel.

She does everything.

In the pages of the diary, she is sometimes Laura, and sometimes she is Abel´s woman.                 

She goes to the kitchen naked after making love. She walks back with a glass of water.

She takes a shower with Abel at noon on a Sunday without closing the bathroom door.  

She walks into the house with La Divina Commedia that is illustrated by Doré, and she gives it to the narrator.

She makes delicious coffee.

She never cries.

War breaks out.

• • •

A sip of coffee.

It has been years since sunlight came in through this window.

A puff of the cigarette.

The City of God.

First book.

Chapter vii.

What happened in Rome, effusion of blood, collapsed buildings, thefts, fires, wailings and sorrow, originated from the common style of the war. This is what Saint Augustine explains. However, the benign attitude of the invaders and the possibility that the defeated had of taking refuge in the temples, and thus avoid being taken as slaves or killed, was Christ’s gift.

• • •

I go to the dock. The water moves, and the city reeks. A man covered in scales tries to get on his feet, but he has lost the ability to walk.

My character came here before I did. He smoked. He cursed with envy. He sensed the deformity within himself.

Before the war, Dis was a city of men.

It wasn´t Hell yet.

It was still not full of deformed creatures.

My boots still did not get stained.

• • •

I pour myself a drink.

I sit by the window.

I light a cigarette.

Diary, pages 122 to the next to last page.

I enjoy the pages dedicated to the war much more than I do the previous pages. I enjoy the pain, the anguish, the tedium.

I read the account of the first time he killed someone. The agitation, the impression, the absence of guilt. It is clear in my memory. 

Abel repeats that Laura is waiting for him.

The war does not stop.                 

Life is dilapidated into hours and days of waiting. Tedium, ostracism. Life is compressed into seconds of battle. Adrenaline; throbbing life; throbbing death.

 The time when his friend Abel saved his life. The time both of them wished they could die. The memories of the days before the war. The sound of the shrapnel. The screams. Abel’s tragic death.

• • •


I sit by the window.


The City of God.

Fifteenth book.

Chapter i.       

I learn that there are two types of men. One that is represented by Cain, and another represented by Abel. Cain belongs to the city of men; Abel belongs to the city of God.

Because Cain was born before Abel, Saint Augustine deduces that man is evil at the moment of his birth. This is what we call the original sin. First comes that which is animal and then what is spiritual. In the same way, God made Abel from the same sick dough which he made Cain from.

From this, we learn that not every man that has been evil will be good, but every man that is good was born evil.

• • •

I sit in front of the page and the ink. I think of my story. It will be about treason. It will be the story of a swine. It will be a story about war. It will have the crack of the shrapnel. The roar of explosions. The anguish of the dying. There will be blood, pain, bravery.

Not every evil man will be good. Every good man was evil.

Not in Dis.

Every good man will be evil and every good, bad man will be evil.      

It is the cold; the absence of sun. The unhealthy smell of the rotten ocean.

Every man in Dis will be deformed.

My deformity will only be revealed by my hand’s writing.

• • •

Many drinks.

Many cigars.

Diary, last page (written by hand)              

I read the description of Abel’s death. It is written in my own handwriting. The anguish of losing a battle, the uneasiness, the hopelessness. His blood falling on my boot. An indelible mark. Everything is clear in my memory. I saw an enemy at gunpoint range, I aimed, I saw Laura walking naked towards the kitchen, and at the moment of firing, I aimed the muzzle at Abel

Joseph Avski: 1980, Medellin, Colombia. José graduated with a degree in Physics from the Universidad de Antioquia (Colombia) and an MFA in Creative Writing from University of Texas at El Paso. He has published poetry and short stories in Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Spain, Mexico, and the USA; and has won short story contests in Colombia, Uruguay, and the USA. In 2009, he won the IX annual National Novel Award from the Medellin Chamber of Commerce with his opera prima El corazón del escorpión (The Heart of Scorpio) which is going to be published in English in summer 2011. In 2010, he was the finalist in the XII Novel Biennial “José Eustasio Rivera” with his novel El libro de los infiernos (The Book of Infernos). He is currently earning his PHD in Hispanic Studies from Texas A & M.