Karen J. Kovacs is a Los Angeles, CA writer, artist, and background actor. Her short stories, poems, and art/photographs have been published in
literary magazines in the US, UK, and Ireland, including The Galway Review, Tears in the Fence (Dorset, England) and Grace and Gravity: Fiction by Washington, D.C. Area Writers.
Her short story, “You Look Like an Understanding Soul” appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature in April 2020, and her poem, “Son of the Sea Wave” in The Galway Review, November 2021.
Waiting for Orpheus
I walk and walk and then unplanned, end up
at that too familiar river round the bend where
Charon has reached his goal of reading
the complete works of Proust, even the unfinished
and is now writing his own Remembrance—
“of things Proust.” Prior to that, he read the Old
and New Testaments forty times, “Forty being the wilderness
number for Moses and J’Shuah,” he explains.
”If it’s a good enough stopping number
for those two, it’s good enough for me.”
And yes, he admitted that afterward, he was
“‘an hungered,’ just like the Lord
after the forty days of temptation in the wilderness,”
though he no longer recalls the taste or smell of food.
“The air by the river is fogbound, and a stupor permeates
one’s senses after lo, these many centuries.”
He seems distracted. I think I know why.
Are you waiting, too? Waiting for Orph—
“Hush. It is too soon to speak his name.”
All the same, I long to hear him say it.
O go on. What possible earthly difference could it make?
You’re as superstitious as Shakespearean actors
“MacBeth”ing nil by mouth.
Charon raises an eyebrow. In this light, he is somehow….
that is, were his pallor not so periwinkle pale and his eyes so
full-fathoms-five (and is he even, technically speaking, fully alive?),
dare I say, handsome.
“‘Twixt heaven and earth,” I suppose you’ll say.
(I trow he has read all the Bard’s works too many times to count.)
But prithee, tell me anyway: why is it too soon to speak his name?
And when will it not be too soon?
“Suffice to say he will return for her one day. Watch the tides.”
What tides? Tides of rivers? Tides of seas? The North Atlantic?
The melting glaciers at the fevered poles?
Where the moon sucks, there suck I,
I merrily daftly ditzy even, buzz my reply.
Something flickers in his violet eyes, and I know he is not a fan
of “Where the bee sucks, there suck I” and (with all due respect
to Shakespeare) find myself fancying him just a tad.
“The sun is low. You must go.”
I implore him to tell me at least what hour of the day
he is most likely to return for her.
I could keep you company now and then,
cher Charon. Like a friend.
A beam of lowering sunlight blazing crimson hits his eyes.
I blink and blink at Charon’s mute reply, depart the river bank, coppery fog wetting my face, and hope the doleful sound I hear is a marsh bird’s lonely cry.
I woke in the arms of Orpheus,
whose lips, no longer blue,
belonged to you.
“Eurydice, my only soul
lie down in my bones—
there is light in my blood,
Stygian waters could never dim
the golden petals lit within
these waiting limbs
and Dionysus’ stern command
has sent the madding maenads
from our land
Hades fades. The tale is told.
The sun is here, Eurydice: behold!
There is light in my blood,
Jorge in Paris
Start at the grotto:
You laughed at
our wonder and warned
not to climb along the sides,
slick ivy plastered to gaudy
older than medusa
half-hiding the dark
too small to call a cave
but cavernous with secrets
of a behemoth slumbering
in dripping catacombs fathoms
below Paris by day.
We ignored you and slipped,
laughing at our wet shoes
“Who cares? It’s warm for May.”
You smiled drily, strolled away,
stopped and turned to tempt us
with the promise of a replica
of Aphrodite’s temple
in another park. “And then:
Montmartre! This you will love.”
Up and up a hill impossibly weedy
with tourists, yet quaintly
resplendent in summer colours
(though it was early May)
and flocks of plein-air painters
plying their wares to mostly
Yanks, the odd German.
You stopped abruptly.
“The best wine is in this café.”
Michel shrugged his gentle
disagreement. The air
was far too Gallic-heady for the rest
of us to discern the best, that day.
Then croissants and buttery
coffee dark as grotto shadows,
and you chose for my daughters
(who wore them all summer
till the threads became loose)
beaded hats of lavender and mauve.
In your flat near the grotto park
Michel put his head on the table.
“Too much wine,” you whispered,
“and not enough food. But tonight
we cook for you. Coq au vin et
pain. You must sing for your supper.”
“And you must play Chopin” I said,
because it rhymed with pain and vin.
“D’accord. A little later, s’il vous plaît.”
Tipsily we took requests. “Daniel” by Elton John
and “something French. You’re in Paris,
after all.” We managed a wobbly
“Sur le pont d’Avignon”.
That evening you played like…
…I want to say an angel, but that’s because
Before we could return to visit all
the other places you wanted us to see,
End with this:
That night you played so beautifully,
hallowed sunset beams fell through the window
to kiss your pale hands golden as they swept
across the piano keys, but even then,
off-key and out of sync, the dank
grotto behemoth was already slithering darkly
up the rue.
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