I have made a careful study of Cerberus the Hound,
who guards the Gates of Pluto, the Underworld overhung
by a maw of stalactites and carpeted with bone.
Gifted to Hades too early, before he was weaned
and his three sets of eyes
had fully opened, still a mewling pup nudging for space and a trio of
his mother’s teats among the shoulders of his ghastly brothers.
It took no time to housetrain him: he really is a good boy
despite his fearsome, mangled looks, a face (faces)
only the most generous dog-lover could adore.
When he is agitated, his heads fight
with each other, self-defeating;
but while the smaller two heads slumber peacefully,
only the middle seems to dream.
Hades himself, brooding and aloof, is a grim
and distant master, busy at his desk all hours,
his thoughts preoccupied with the
day-to-day paperwork and administration
of his doleful, chthonic realm;
but sad-eyed Persephone,
Demeter’s lost daughter,
is always good for a head pat
or a game of fetch.
Though the hound has been given range
to wander the fields of Asphodel and Elysium,
he makes his home at the gates.
Though they call him guard dog
and he barks at the delivery men,
the mail and Amazon packages for the dead,
and growls and raises his hackles
at the dread comings and goings of the Furies,
he is playful with the dead that arrive,
excitedly pacing the shores of Acheron and Styx,
running ready to greet ragged Charon’s caravel as he docks.
See him, gentle mutt Cerberus, welcoming
and nuzzling the legs of the dead that enter
that dark and depthless kingdom.
But woe to those who try to leave that benighted realm
without the sanction of the hound or his master.
For he is still beast and brute, born of ferocious monsters,
quick with fang and claw, and there are rules even he knows:
one of them is that death is forever and that you can never go back
to the land of the living; you get no second chances,
even to say goodbye.
Later, he picks among the bones that lay piled
on those black shores, worrying at the remaining
bits of flesh with dripping jaws.
Then he stands again beside dark waters
awaiting the return of Charon’s barque,
wagging his serpent tail.
[Matthew Roy (he/him) recently moved from a small town to a big city, from a rambling farmhouse to a tiny apartment, and from a major corporation to an up-and-comer. He meets people for a living, but escapes into books and poetry when he can. His work has appeared in So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library.]