Alice O. Howell
I cross the rivers of Hades
Cocytus, Phlegethon, Acheron, and Styx,
by-passing the blisses of Letho.
Plutus is waiting
black-eyed and curious.
Few people come down this far, he comments.
He is dark and powerful, as I expected,
but he looks wan of skin and somewhat strained.
Why have you come? The plumbing is very bad here.
It is. The cavern walls are streaming
with tears and flashing with slime
and the usual assortment
of creeping red-eyed monsters are
mewling about, obviously not housebroken.
but I am no longer afraid. This is urgent.
I come to learn of evil, I tell him.
I might be called evil because I looked down here before.
So, replies Plutus. Then you have come to the right place.
I sit on a block of stone and he begins.
Everyone at birth has his own share of Hades,
furnished to taste and prevailing custom, of course,
yet caves are most popular and suitable
as symbols of depth, dark, and unknown terrors.
You are all united by a threading river of fire.
Each of you receives a packing case
shipped down to order.
Charon has quite a side-line,
another Greek shipping magnate!
and in the case: -"
He counts on his fingers.
Rituals, murders, fears of the race.
tortures. screams, tabus of the tribe.
repressions, distortions, guilts of the family,
and, of course, your personal residue.
Quite a Pandora's Box!
Share and share alike, a human debt
to the generations.
These are released, my friend, by degrees.
Some run about the dreams of childhood,
Some sit and whine in the dark corners of the mind.
Did you not tremble as a child
alone with howls and bears and gropings?
Did you not throw shames down here yourself
for your children's children?
Here is your collection. Here.
All to be faced sooner or later.
You would not believe
the stuff that gets thrown down here
century after century!
Here it festers nicely and seethes and makes power.
But how you use this - ah, that is your affair.
He leans toward me, glowing with emphasis.
What you call evil is primeval energy misunderstood.
He lets the flames of his words sink in.
Why, I ask softly, why you?
Plutus gives a twisted smile as if the question pleases him.
I was the proudest. I wanted the impossible work.
Few know that I exist or care to redeem me.
Persephone never remembers messages!
Would you not want to come up to the sun?.I ask.
At times I do but it saddens me
I grieve for months.
Plutus, I ask, must we have this dark kingdom?
A three-headed dog with phosphorescent fangs
appears. I hold out my hand
and it lays its hideous heads piteously
on my trembling knees, wagging a mangy tail.
Without my dark, Plutus continues,
you would have no desires.
No strengths in your urges, ambitions, or achievements.
Even spirit needs my sinews for earthly matters.
When you use me, I am called good. I become
almost natural. But when I use you
I am called horrible, insulting names
which vary with religions.
Remember all virtues carried to excess become vices.
That can be tricky!
Either way, I am admired, feared, or damned
but love --?
He gives a short laugh and comes close to me.
Cerberus, for such is his name, slinks away
his tail beneath his tattered legs.
Plutus undresses me;
I moan in my sleep.
He put his dark hands on my breasts
but playfully I put my arms around him
and gave him a hug and a kiss
which he needs more.
He hasn't been hugged in aeons!
His voice shakes.
Orpheus came down here once.
Let me tell you that
his lyre sang sweeter songs
because he sang of the Oracles of Night
and lost Eurydice.
He sang for beauty forever denied him
trusting not that it followed behind.
The trees, the grass, the flowers, the springs,
even we held our breath and our tears,
but it was not to be!
Sing of me upon your return, I beg you,
for I am redeemed by art.
I dress again
And Plutus even buttons me up the back.
I give him a chocolate bar which is all I have
I pity you with all my heart, I tell him.
I will try to understand and to love you.
He rises then majestically and opens his cape.
A swirl of black stars of onyx
fall around me, and I am mortally afraid.
Faintly I hear him singing:
For I am redeemed in you by art, and
I am also fond of pomegranates.
I cannot bid him farewell
for I am gasping up the stairs of my night
Strangely, I feel cleansed when I awake
and so I reach for paper
and set this down.