Sisyphus by Titian (1548-1549)
Today’s prompt challenges us “to write a poem about a mythical person or creature doing something unusual – or at least something that seems unusual in relation to that person/creature. For example, what does Hercules do when he loses a sock in the dryer? If a mermaid wants to pick up rock-climbing as a hobby, how does she do that? What happens when a mountain troll makes pancakes?” (Full NaPoWriMo post available here.)
OK, so this is not a poem. I’m not sure what it is. The boulder took off and I followed.
Trouble in the Underworld
Sisyphus abandons his boulder in a hole in the ground and decides to go fishing. What are the gods going to do, send him to hell? He catches three dead souls and Tantalus’s beard. The gray, anemone-scented beard is home to a sizeable school of fish. Toilet-flushed goldfish, to be exact, who scatter in all directions at Tantalus’s shriek like a shaken tinfoil cloud of question marks. Sisyphus has no answer to their questions (which are all why?), he’s too busy covering his mouth with a large, manly hand. (Eons of pushing a rock up a mountain will do that to you.) His pal’s shriek has started an avalanche.
An avalanche in hell is no joke. Sisyphus’s boulder has dislodged and is now picking up speed as it rolls down the mountain. It mows down a flock of ghost sheep grazing on ghostbrush, sends them bobbing like little dead clouds across a stale sky. The boulder lays flat a host of Myrmidons gawking at lifeless, but somehow still flying, butterflies in the Elysian fields. The boulder interrupts a tearful, millenia-long reunion between Achilles and Patroclus, as they jump away from each other to avoid being crushed. The boulder crushes numerous nameless victims before it comes to an abrupt, splashy stop in the mouth of the Lethe.
Within seconds, the river of forgetfulness runs dry. Don’t ask how that is possible, the laws of physics don’t apply in the underworld. Remember, we’re talking about a boulder rolling downhill at top speed, killing everything in its path, even the dead, even those dead who don’t deserve to be killed all over again. The river runs dry, let’s not quibble about it, and the lesser shadows regain their memories. Which means they cannot be reincarnated, in case you, who have so many opinions, wonder. Which means, all hell is breaking loose, because people won’t stop dying upstairs just because there’s no more room in the underworld.
Behold what Sisyphus has done! Hades is scratching his balding head, his rock-star cleft-chin. Perhaps he was wrong to punish Sisyphus with an everlasting task. But how could he have known? Now look, the banks of the Styx are crawling with shadows. Now look, the overworked Charon has stopped ferrying souls and took up embroidery. (Much less stressful.) Now look, the dead remember EVERYTHING, their pitiful lives and equally pitiful deaths, they are rightfully angry and there are oh, so many of them. Even bitter Persephone, who’s never really found her niche in the underworld, left him, her royal consort/uncle/rapist and took off with the buffed-up shadows of Achilles (the immortal Brad Pitt version) and his cousin/lover. He sent Cerberus after them but so far, no luck. How is he going to explain all this to brother Zeus?
Knee-deep in stupor-inducing mud, Sisyphus rocks the boulder to and fro. He can barely remember his own name, what with the bog fumes stinging his eyes, but he knows he must push this boulder up onto the river bank, like so, then through dead grass and scores of torn bodies scattered across the slopes in grotesque positions, like so, then higher up, beyond the broken ant-like warriors that almost ring a bell but not quite, like so, through bleating clouds of terrified sheep, like so, to the very top of the mountain, where the air is cleaner and his name comes back, and with it the chip on his shoulder (isn’t he smarter than Zeus himself?), and where he can see the whole of the underworld lying at his feet like a dinner plate filled with the inedible dead, crisscrossed by the muddy serpentines of hell’s rivers, among them, the ever-flowing, stinky Lethe. Just then, the boulder begins its downhill roll once again.
In the upper world, two men and a woman in strange garb, but mostly naked, led by a poorly-trained three-headed dog, emerge from the bowels of the earth at Foggy Bottom metro station in DC. They blink into the sun and are immediately accosted by a throng of ululating fans, demanding autographs and selfies with their one-in-a-million idol, his alien dog, and whoever those two other naked people might be.