A Weekend in Hades

Jacob van Swanenburg Sybil and Aeneas in the Underworld


A Weekend in Hades


It starts with the creak of oars in murky waters,
blood rising to the surface like goldfish.
The weeds are wild with the hair of the dead.

Small price to pay for a weekend in Hades.

We get off at the next stop,
drunk with excitement, like all tourists.
Then we remember we forgot our camera.

The half-dressed guide swivels around us high-heeled,
barking out orders, whipping the group into shape.
She looks like a three-headed dog
snapping at the end of its chain.

We are all apparitions, these women and men,
dressed in our best clothes among raging flames.
Some of us go barefoot
for the sheer experience of it.

* * *

The look on Hades’s face is unforgettable. Persephone
has a hard time refraining from laughter.
Cerberus did it again—ate up all the tourists.

And now, with the hot season over, and Hell
entering its winter stagnation, with sinners
huddling beside the huge cold vats, waiting
like eastern Europeans for some unlikely sparks,
their luck thinning with each passing day,
Hades will have to admit: the company’s going bankrupt.
The necessary apologies are issued, tickets
returned, then, the news: we’re going home!

* * *

The dead crowd the passage between darkness and light.
At the end of the tunnel people are chanting.
It happens quickly—the light grows opaque,
then disappears. No one knows who is responsible
for what. Someone requests a head count.

We quickly discover that Lazarus is missing. Again.
He’s done this before, he knows the ropes,
the secret trail, the way back to the body.

Naturally, people are angry.
Why should one soul get all the perks?
Something must be done about it—a petition,
a firm request for an audition.
Lots are cast among the elderly and the children.
There’s always the chance that age or innocence
may earn them another reprieve.
The blind old guy with the staff stumbles back
into the underworld. We never see him again.

The rest of us wait. Someday
the rock will be moved. Someday the light will slice
this solid darkness, and someone—
a god, perhaps?—will call us forth
into the livid, unholy body of our dreams.


First published in Fickle Muses: journal of mythic poetry & fiction, April 2011


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