Pay the Ferryman
by Belinda Roddie
I came across the river Styx
and felt the soul inside me melt.
I'd thought the next life more than this,
and not this pot of tears and tricks
that carried me from Orion's belt.
Kharon was waiting in his boat,
his hair pulled back, revealing bones,
and once I boarded, we started to float
down streams forced down a devil's throat,
the water gushing 'round blackened stones.
As we both sailed the river Styx,
I gripped the boat's sides, splinters trapped
between my fingers, my eyes lit
by flames that glowed blue once they met
the air from which all life was sapped.
I asked Kharon, "Much farther now?"
and yet he did not answer. He
just cast a dim, skeletal frown.
His wordless questions: Why? And how?
And just what was the point of me?
And just what was the point of all
the bodies huddled on the bed
of Styx, making their panicked calls
to ferrymen who rode to halls
of ever growing swarms of red?
And just why did they choke out cries
when they lacked coins jammed in their mouths
and could not pay the ferry's price
to ship them past the fields of lies
that bristled 'neath the plaintive crowds?
I paid no heed to keening moans
but simply kept my eyes ahead,
for I knew, past the sobs and groans,
there'd sit in front of me two thrones:
The king and queen of doomed and dead.
And there, I'd have to testify
for all my great defiant sins -
atoning would be hard, for I
had caused many innocents to die
before their happy years were spent.
No, I was not a hero meant
for sweet Elysium, or even
Asphodel, the spirits sent
to shamble, aimless, despondent,
wishing for something more like Heaven.
Hades would damn me, surely, for
my careless, casual slaughtering
of men, women, and children. War
can crown a king, but at its core,
it's known only for suffering.
They'd throw my soul aside, I knew,
and submit me to labor, with
no food to sate my hunger, true,
no water to quench my thirst, too -
I'd be the next great Sisyphus:
Heaving a boulder up a hill,
or something harsh I could not dodge,
a task repetitive and still
amounting to a total Nil.
In Tartarus, my corpse be lodged.
The river Styx spills endlessly
into the great underworld's maw,
and here I am, as if at sea,
with Kharon as my company
waiting for eternal winter to thaw.
So I remain on this journey
to find a colder, darker shore,
and spring will never return to me
to warm my body happily.
I won't feel a thing anymore.