• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 07

Birdlet, Tree, Ferryman


You will find in the halls of Hades a spring on the left,
and standing by it, a glowing white cypress tree;

— first two lines of the Petelia tablet, Orphic Inscription 3rd-2nd Century BC found in gold necklace, British Museum

The Girl:

I find a spring, if you can call it that,
A little clear rill, cold as new fallen snow.
The cypress, like a thick torch of wool fat
Burning in the cliff’s undercleft borrow.

I clutched my new-shorn hair,
My weeping mother above oh oiseau,
My little one.

But I wait here for the god,
The one who turned back,
Turning myself away
From no uncanny thing.

The Cypress:

ΚΥΠΑΡΙΣΣΟΝ is only one of the names
I was given by men, catacombs and tumuli,
Pyres and coffins; they so easily disclaim
Mortal soil, as brief as droning honeybees.


Birdlet, Tree, Ferryman

The girl chirps at me, a golden oriel.
What am I to say to this
Little yellow kindle in the night,
Flaring up suddenly?

I try to nod but time
It passes so quickly here.

The Ferryman:

I opened her mouth to check for a stater,
Or denarius struck in gold,
But then I saw the hair, the indicator
That I had no just juridical hold here.

She stood under the bright tree
Unfrightened as day, as the inverse stars
Cast her shadow on the quays.

“I will take you to him”

Wait, she says, wait
give me a lyre.