Danielle deo Owensby

My Divine Comedy

In Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy, Dante travels through hell, purgatory, and eventually into a heaven of his own construction, unscathed, but wiser at the end of his journey.

I’ve been drawn to Dante’s vivid descriptions of eternal damnation ever since I first read the poem as an English Literature student. Growing up in an extremist church, I experienced a constant struggle between my authentic self and the beliefs imposed upon me, and have often pondered the existence of the afterlife and have feared for my own damnation.

Using Dante's words as a road map, I am reimagining The Divine Comedy and applying it to my own journey as a previously closeted queer person trying to navigate this life and shake off the indoctrination of my childhood and adolescence. Through this work, I aim to explore the complexities of my identity and the transformative power of embracing my true self.

From the darkness of the Inferno to the illuminated beauty of Paradiso, I use Dante's poetry as a framework to explore the themes of identity, self-discovery, and transformation. Using self-portraits and constructed imagery as a vehicle for allegories and a mix of literal interpretations from Dante's text and my own fantastical visions, I am pondering a few questions: 

What would my journey look like? What are the punishments for my sins, especially as a queer, purity-culture dropout? And, most importantly, how do I break these punishments down and banish them from my psyche and celebrate who I have become?

This is a WIP, check back periodically for updates. 

Canto I: The Pathway Lost

Midway upon my journey through this life,

I found myself lost within a forest dark, 

As my pathway had become lost.

I wandered forward (or was it backward?) 

Through the deadened trees,

My bare feet crunching coldly against the forest floor’s leaves.

I could feel the dirt collecting beneath my toes and thought only of the missing pathway,

Wondering where I turned wrong,

Until finally I rested upon a fallen tree.

Laying there, heaviness in my skin,

The pathway faded into the dirt

As I sank into what was truly lost.

Heavy with exhaustion, 

I breathed my fears into the bark of the fallen tree, 

As if this great giant hadn’t also been torn from its roots.

Inferno: The Pathway Lost, 2023.

Inferno: Lust, 2020.

Canto VII: Their Wrath

Just as I heard the first sounds of running water in the distance

They let go of my hand, 

The absence of Their calming warmth causing me to turn in question.

But They smiled sadly and nodded ahead, saying, 

“This one will have to be faced alone.”

We come upon a mirrored body whose shore mingled with the sky,

The calm water lapped up against the rocky shore.

The rocks rolled under my feet, pinching my skin and making my way unsteady

As I walked closer to what I knew to be the River Styx.

“It’s much calmer than I thought it would be,” I said to Them, turning away from the shore for a moment.

They were carrying a mirror. 

I hadn’t noticed before. 

Within its reflection was the River, only swelling and crashing against the shore.

I leaned in closer, fascinated by the mimicry,

My hot breath fogging the silver glass,

And I thought, briefly, how my own reflection had brought it to me.

When I took the mirror from their proffered hands

It almost slipped through my fingers as my arms struggled against it’s weight,

The stormy waters inside silent against its cage.

“How do we get across,” I asked, cradling my burden and turning back to the water, 

“why isn’t there a boat, where’s the Ferryman?”

“We have to swim,” They said mournfully, 

Betraying a sadness that felt as deep as this river in Hell.

Steeling myself for a cold plunge, I walked into the water, surprised to find it warm.

I walked in deeper, slipping against the stones,

My abused feet cutting on rocks unseen as I held the mirror aloft

And the gentle waves gave way to a sudden 


The waves towered above, promising pressure with every pass,

And I began to fight to stay afloat,

Though my mirror was making the effort challenging,

The water stinging my nose,

Stealing my breath.

I began to hear voices, indistinct at first, 

but with every crash against shore– 

where was the shore?

they became recognizable, though I didn’t want to hear them,

Not here.

Not now.

Not ever again.

The water grew warmer as it pumped into my lungs,

Suffocating me and the voices that I often push down, 



rising to the surface of the water, of my thoughts, of my heart.

I could no longer touch the riverbed with my feet, and I knew then that the River wasn’t a river at all, but an endless sea.

I also realized I could not swim while holding the mirror, which still felt cool in my hands, despite the steaming water I now struggled in.

I turned to call out for my partner to help,

But They were gone,

And I let myself be dragged beneath the tide.

Visions swelled before my eyes beneath the sea:

A preacher screaming and stomping from the pulpit, 

My father shoving pennies in my young face,

A boy that looks like me, punching holes in the drywall,

Throwing a white TV against an open door,

The police holding him down while my mother cries in the hallway,

A woman that looks like my mother, screaming and crying her confusion,

Shattered glass mingling with the sick on the floor.

A noose made out of an orange extension cord hanging from a child’s bunk bed– 

It all boils as I now clutch the mirror beneath the waves

The mirror that is so cold, it burns.

More visions knock me, swirling within a whirlpool of memories:

A kind-faced woman with words she thought were helpful,

“I can see the bottom of your knees in that skirt,” 

The man boy the immature child who made a list of everything wrong with me,

The friend bitch the liar who took away what kept me going,

During a time where there was so little that kept me breathing.

The man CEO in the warehouse hallway who said to me,

“You shouldn’t be working back here, who knows, you might disappear,” 

It hurts, the piercing cold of the mirror,

But I hold it close as it drags me under,

My rage, my wrath, my refuge.

I keep it contained, 

I always keep it contained,

I have to keep it contained,

Blessed are the peacemakers,

As they will be called Children of God.

I wish they would hurt in the way they hurt me,

I want to punch a wall, br ea k my hands,

I long to scream about all the wrongs I quietly faced,

I crave justice, I want to administer it with a gleeful smile,

A hateful laugh,

The cruelest words 




And just as I let myself be dragged under,

The mirror freezing, feeling divine in the boiling water,

Holding it close, enveloping it in my arms like a lover,

A lover that hurts,

I know objectively I have to let go.

(But God, it’s so hard, can’t I have this just once?)

My lungs are ready to burst as I try to hang on,

But I know what I must do…

So I look towards what I hope is the sky, 

And I drop the mirror beneath the sea.

I don’t watch it sink into the abyss.

I reach toward the surface,

Kicking my feet in the dying swell,

Breaching the surface at last,

Where They are searching for me.

Their hand pulls me out

And as I gasp for breath I manage to say,

“I thought I was to do this alone?” 

Stroking my back and leading me towards the once impossibly far shore

They say to me, “I am you, always have been, always will be,”

“And you, you will be me.”

I clear the water from my lungs and cry.

Inferno: Their Wrath, 2023.

Inferno: Heretic, 2023.

Inferno: Self Violent, 2023.

Inferno: Self Violent, Freed, 2022.

Inferno: The Fortune Seeker, 2024.

Inferno: The Treachery, 2023.

Paradiso: Inconstant Vow, 2024.

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