At the worldly water’s edge I met
A ferryman fettered with every man’s debt;
Most men ferried were frantic and wailing,
But fretless he focused on only the sailing.
Sails unset, and a sulphurous shore-line,
He had not expected the twisting shrine
To offer me forward, unholy day,
Across the bubbling barking spray,
And twice, three times again he inspected
A register of sadnesses’ shipment selected;
On the sediment’s surface I thought it strange
To speak of no toll, no financial exchange
For embarking his dark gondola. My name
Was not listed, but it was all the same
Payment to him, to steer me on beyond all reach,
Where strange landings occur on a stranger beach.
His grim hand flaking pointed barge-wards,
Above us flew three haggard blackbirds;
Anchored not far from where I appeared,
Like a friend in a dream, the same yet weird
And disconcerting, we had not met for years,
I saw myself moored with morbid fears.
I tripped on the littoral margin, and spumes of red
Bit my bare legs. Inelegantly, I clambered instead
And sat opposite from my hanging host
As he pushed off with oars from his dockyard post.
I looked over the lip of the creaking craft;
Nothing reflected, fore and aft.
At the midway point of this bleak crossing
(The worst of the details I’m continuously glossing)
I noticed, new horror, three holes in the deck
Through where the wild waters would willingly wreck.
My chaperone slowly turned his head,
And said without moving his lips of the dead:
“I have two skulls, two holes they’ll seal,
You must choose which two are real”.
His great grim hand, the bone-blockers rolled,
Across the base to where I sat cold
In the heat of the river, a terrible choice,
I had forgotten the feathers to love and rejoice
And as I felt my last heart sinking,
And all I could see were the hollow heads thinking,
I dropped those skulls with heavy regret,
And awoke beside you, covered in sweat.
Featured image is Charon and Psyche (1883)
By John Roddam Spencer Stanhope – Private Collection Roy Miles Fine Paintings, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43610750