Orpheus Howling

Orpheus Ascending by Gilbert Alfred Franklin. Photograph by Shai Afsai.

[Author’s Note: Written after a class field trip to Providence’s RISD Museum and inspired by Gilbert Alfred Franklin’s 1963 sculpture “Orpheus Ascending,” in yet another failed attempt to help my 9th grade students better appreciate Greek mythology and encourage them to compose their own poems.]

how I long for your honeyed lips,
the warm caress of your fingertips,
your raven hair and skin of milk,
your whispered words as soft as silk.

Your poison-death
by viper’s bite,
transformed my days
to lightless night.

Through a cave to dark Styx I went,
the realm where all men’s souls are sent.
Boatman Charon blocked my way,
refused to row and spurned my pay.
Cerberus, three-headed beast,
saw in me a ready feast.

My lyre’s lulling cleared the path,
and Kore soothed her husband’s wrath.

“O Hades! Hades! Lord of death!
Taker of all mortal breath!
My one true love restore to me!
My earth! My sky! My deep blue sea!
My blood! My heart! My very life!
My most unjustly purloined wife!”

The Unseen One, sympathetic, said:
“Take her. Go. But look straight ahead.”


And now you,
remain dead.

[Shai Afsai (shaiafsai.com) lives in Providence, Rhode Island. In addition to short stories and poems, his recent writing has focused on Benjamin Franklin’s influence on Jewish thought and practice, and on the works of the contemporary Dublin author Gerry Mc Donnell.]