Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Ferryman's Complaint

Let’s look at today’s takings:
one hundred and fifty-five
thousand across, out of a potential
six billion customers. Plus one
roundtrip. That’s you. A poet. Nothing, 
proportionally speaking. No,
business isn’t what it used to be.
Nothing compared to what I used to earn:
smallpox, plague, diphtheria,
tetanus, septicemia—when
spears and swords were all the rage.
Homer was quite kind to me.
His doctors never washed their hands
or bloody instruments. They 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, two coins covering the eyes,
pennies meant something. That’s
how Alexander came to me, Caesar,
countless others I could name.
I never forget a friendly 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. Cripples
and children under twelve pay half.
Pregnant women and infants
ride free. They always will. But
at least Homer and friends made 
an effort. You expect charity. Look.
Don’t take my hand. Just look
at these hideous blisters. Look.
I worked my fingers to the bone:
The Somme, Verdun, Passchendaele,
Influenza, Amritsar,
The 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
ferrying those mystified millions
across this damned river. For free.
I did my bit at Dunkirk, too.
You look surprised. Don’t be.
I keep very careful accounts.
A miracle is what you owe me.

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