Alice O. Howell   


                                I cross the rivers of Hades

                                    in sleep:

            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

                                                            ever after

                        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

                                                into day.

            Strangely, I feel cleansed when I awake

                                    and so I reach for paper

                                                                        and set this down.






Deborah 10-9-03