by Jimmy Pappas

Obols placed in the mouths of the dead.
Silver coins with eyes too big for the head.

The souls line up, unnecessary robes discarded.
No one notices the nakedness of those departed.

the water glistens

They bow their heads and spit their money
into the outstretched palm of Charon.

Unable to pay their fares, the poor
wander the banks in search of loot.

the coins shine

The boatman uses his long pole
to push away those with no toll.

On his way back, he removes his goatskin pouch.
To make room for new plunder, he dumps it all out.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: A coin was placed in the mouth of a dead person to pay the boatman Charon for passage across the River Styx into Hades. I’ve always wondered what possible use the coin would have in the underworld. It seemed to me to be one more insult for the poor who could not afford to cross and a worthless gesture for everyone else.

IMAGE: Medusa coin from the Black Sea region, of a type sometimes used as Charon’s obol, with anchor and crustacean on reverse.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jimmy Pappas earned his M.A. in literature from Rivier University in New Hampshire after serving in Vietnam for the Air Force. He taught high school English, philosophy, and poetry for thirty years until he retired to focus on his own writing. He is an active member of the Poetry Society of New Hampshire. His poems have appeared in such journals as Kentucky Review, Atticus Review, Red River Review, and War, Literature and the Arts.