The Boatman to Psyche, on the River Styx
“But I have one last errand for you, my poppet.”
—Apuleius, The Golden Ass
Only a few have come here still alive,
Heroes seeking immortality,
Lovers who refuse to grieve.
They are found out by gravity,
How they unbalance the scow
With one foot still on the quay
And the other stepping into the prow
While evil-smelling bilge comes seeping
Up through the planks, as it is doing now.
The sorry hound is usually sleeping
(Three heads, no brain),
But his job is keeping
The inmates in. He has no reason
To keep the living out.
All will come here in their own sweet season.
Perhaps you thought
No one would notice you among so many,
But you are not the shadow of a doubt,
You are the thing itself. Your shiny penny
Will pay your passage, though it should be double.
You are two if you are any—
Aren’t you a double tug upon
The earth, and twice the trouble?
Gravid girl, you’re far gone.
I feel the quickening,
Obscene here where all frenzy is done,
A thing like that, a specter that looms
Out of the queasy future, ticking and ticking
Like a kind of bomb.
An x-ray developing in your chemical bath,
Your dark room.
You wonder how a blind man finds his path
Over the swamp of hate,
The river of wrath?
My eyes are ultrasound. I echolocate
Like the pipistrelles that drop
Their slick of guano on the sloping slate—
Treacherous footing. Here’s our stop.
So, you’re on an errand to the Queen,
To borrow her beauty like a pot of make-up.
It’s true that she has stayed just seventeen:
The sun can’t spoil her looks—
Her lips are stained with grenadine.
And here there are only stopped clocks
And no reflections. A hint:
If she gives you a wooden box
Yea big—scarcely big enough for an infant—
Don’t open it, though you crave
A peek, a free sample. You say you won’t,
But the living have a flair for narrative.
What if I tell you all the beauty ever worn
By loveliness was borrowed from the grave