This piece is extracted from a much longer essay. I hope to see it published as part of Grief/ance: African American Lives in the 20th Century (current, ever shifting title).
Love's Bright Fire is in Obit Magazine today. Give it a look. Let me know what you think.
Oh, and here is my interpretation of Canto VI of Purgatorio where the title comes from:
Dante and Virgil have emerged from Hell onto the vast plain leading to Mount Purgatory. As they walk toward the mountain they meet many souls, shades, hungry ghosts, call them what you will. Eventually they come upon a group that is gambling, playing a dice game. Loss weighs heavily on each of them. As they leave the game they catch sight of Dante, robust, pink, alive. They begin grabbing at him and begging him to remember them to those who are still alive and who, in life, loved them dearly. Dante is overwhelmed by their requests, and confused, believing the intercession of the living has no standing in the light of God’s unyielding justice. So he turns to Virgil, whose wisdom he depends upon, and says (this is a paraphrase of course), “How could this be? Didn’t you yourself say, in the Aeneid, that nothing can help those who have left life and await the Lord’s righteous punishment for their sins?”
Virgil responds, “I did write such words, and my writing is plain. Remember, there had been no Savior given, but now there has been, so all has changed. God’s justice is not ‘demeaned or lessened if, in an instant, Love’s bright fire’ achieves what a long sojourn in Purgatory might otherwise accomplish.”