Friday, April 27, 2012

Charon's Complaint

Let’s look at today’s numbers: 155
thousand across, out of a potential
6 billion customers. Plus one roundtrip.
That’s you. That’s pocket change,
proportionally speaking. See,
business isn’t what it used to be.
Nothing compared to what
I used to earn back in the good old days
of smallpox, plague, diphtheria,
puerperal fever, septicemia—when
spears and swords were all the rage.
The Bronze Age. Homer was quite kind to me.
His doctors never washed their hands,
or bloody instruments, but moved
from gut wound to gut wound like the Fates,
up to their elbows in intestines,
endlessly stitching things
shut. A hush surrounded death
back then. Customs were respected.
A coin deposited beneath
the tongue, or two coins covering the eyes,
these little gestures meant something. That’s
how Alexander came to me, and Caesar, and
countless others I could name.
I never forget a courteous face.
These were the decencies the family
attempted to observe even if
no money could be found. For me,
the thought always counts. I’m not greedy.
I’m not unsympathetic. But
I do have a staff to support. Liability
insurance. Lawyers. Poets
and children under twelve pay half.
Pregnant women and infants
ride free. They always will. But
at least Homer and friends made
the effort. You expect charity. Look.
Don’t take my hand. Just look
at these hideous blisters. See.
I worked my fingers to the bone
during the twentieth century:
The Somme, Verdun, Passchendaele,
The Influenza Epidemic,
Invasion of Manchuria,
Guernica, Nanking, The Blitz,
Buchenwald, Dresden, D-Day,
Hiroshima, Korea, the killing fields
of Cambodia, Rwanda. AIDS. The list
goes on. I don’t do charity work.
I’m not in business for my health,
you know. I slipped a disk
schlepping those mystified millions
across the River Styx. For free.
Nobody expected that, but I did.
I did my bit at Dunkirk. Look.
All of that beautiful bullion
wasted on bulldozers and gasoline
to burn and bury bodies when
the slaughter organizers might
have left everything out in the rain
to rot; or invested in a few clean
shovels, and passed them around,
give everyone a few corpses to cover—
to be recycled, so to speak. Well,
there were a few incidents like that
during the Second World War.
In glades of evergreens. It was good for
trees in Russia, perhaps. It was
a great idea that never took off.
Most everything went into weapons
research: H-Bombs and ICBMs.
A dollar here and there for a vaccine.
For polio. A drop in the bucket, maybe,
for you. But not for me. It seems
a waste of time and money. Look
at the twentieth century. With all of those
poor people scheduled to die
anyway, H-Bombs sort of make sense.
Can you explain to me what was
the point of a polio vaccine?

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