“The Ferryman”

A Poem by Stanley Moss

September 1, 2021  By Stanley Moss

I wanted to speak to the Ferryman.
I called directory inquiry, information,
on my smartphone. I was given a number,
a revelation. I swore to Hermes,
Gods’ messenger, not to show or share
that sacred number with any human, king or serf.
I called, digital ladies’ voices answered:
“He’s busy.” “Unavailable.” “Occupied.”

Article continues below

I remember the bloody and high voltage occasions
when the Ferryman was so close
I could smell and taste his breath.
After he came close to me
cat scans of my head showed I had an artifact,
a souvenir, a presence in an inoperable place,
camped under my hippocampus.

I’ve seen the Ferryman in paintings
and poetry, but never man’s face to man’s face.
Yes, I’ve known him all my life.
Death fathers everyone. I am his child.
Many in my neighborhood thought I was
an arrogant “black prince” and bugger.
Arrogant? I’m ashamed to tell the truth.
A!er World War II, I often wore black,
I limped like Richard III. Talk about the Styx,
my heart called for a horse, a horse.

I try to sing a hymn made out of holy facts.
Every sparrow knows Christ walked on water.
The Ferryman poled his ferry on dry land.
Dead drunk, I’ve seen him and his ferry in the sky
along the shoreline of Paradise.

Right now I see his ferry in the pond below my window,
the Ferryman in a rocking chair is bored with me.
He’s waiting, yawning, smoking a cigar.
He blows clouds of smoke rings
across the lawn over a great red oak.
I call him respectfully. He won’t speak to me.
Margie, my last dog, barks,
“Get the hell out of here!”
Does he ever ferry dogs, loving cats?
Rocking seems to entertain him.

Article continues below

I’m caught not saved, even though I praise
King David, Santa Teresa de Ávila
San Juan de la Cruz, the Ferryman who has
no name I know will eventually take me
by pole and his demon wings,
to an island where skeletons dance.
Now I think his accented Greek voice
is loud and clear. He’s poling. He shouts my name,
I’m hiding. Clear across the Hudson Valley
I hear “Repent, repent.” He’s the double
of the statue of the murdered Commendatore
in Don Giovanni. I answer, “Your excellence,
Ferryman, statue, I invite you to dinner.”
I’ve set the table with wine glasses,
New York State, Dutchess County red wine,
Hudson blue linen napkins,
knives, knives, knives, knives, no forks or spoons.
I know in a little while the Ferryman
will take me across the Styx in the company
of the four seasons, made human:
winter, spring, summer and autumn.
Summer wears a wreath of roses crowned with laurel,
Spring wears a waistcoat of budding dandelions,
Autumn, a coat of fallen maple leaves and grapevines,
wrinkled Winter has snowflakes in his hair and beard.
He wears ice snowshoes. I pretend to sleep.


Not Yet

From Not Yet by Stanley Moss. Used with the permission of Seven Stories Press. Copyright © 2021 by Stanley Moss.

Article continues below

Stanley Moss
Stanley Moss
Born in New York City, Stanley Moss was educated at Trinity College and Yale University. He has been writing poetry for over a half-century. In addition, Moss is a private art dealer specializing in Italian and Spanish old masters, as well as the publisher and editor of The Sheep Meadow Press, a non-profit publishing house devoted to poetry. Moss lives in Clintondale and River Corners, New York.

More Story
Rejecting Complacency: Books to Inspire Activism and Advocacy Every September, the entire nation gets swept up in romantic memories of how unified things seemed on September 12th (the...

Become a Lit Hub Supporting Member: Because Books Matter

For the past decade, Literary Hub has brought you the best of the book world for free—no paywall. But our future relies on you. In return for a donation, you’ll get an ad-free reading experience, exclusive editors’ picks, book giveaways, and our coveted Joan Didion Lit Hub tote bag. Most importantly, you’ll keep independent book coverage alive and thriving on the internet.