Three Poems by Joe Dunthorne
Words By Joe Dunthorne, Art By Arthur Asa
Charon lets his quant slip down,
waits for the prong to snag
then, with this outsize punting arm,
pushes off the fleshy basin.
While his passengers lean over
the gunwale to commune
with their reflections, he tells
stories of the well-known men
he’s ferried to their doom:
how Napoleon with his bank clerk’s haircut
sat like a schoolboy on the prow;
how Polpot slipped Charon a sweetener
then hopped off, daps unmuddied,
a man who’d long ago befriended
this far stream; Shipman did not earn
his name, nearly had them pitchpoled
with his mewling. Everyone asks
if Hitler made a fuss. Truth is,
he more or less went unnoticed,
took the middle bench, the middle seat,
Held on tight, not much of a swimmer
by all accounts, remained quite civil
as he saw the furthest river kindle,
Charon parks in reed
for disembarkation as auburn highlights
fleck his passengers’ hair.
He’s never met a soul
who said the flaming shore
was less impressive than expected.
Alone at last, he makes his way back.
When the water is dark and still
he stops and slides a rod
from the galley. You’d think in a brook
this dank he’d struggle for a catch
but no, if anything he wishes
for a few more emanates peace before
—look—a blue gurnard homing in,
come to offer itself to his hook.
It is nice to kidnap a boyfriend,
gaffer his legs and wrists,
drive to where the tram lines
give out to dust and the darkness
has a smell. I like to daydream that
he did not ask for this, there is
no safe word and I am deranged.
When we get to the lake, I baptize him
under many different names. He says
help which is not the safe word. He says
anybody which is not the safe word. He says
uck uck which are not safe words.
I beat him gently until he says archipelago.
The tape squeals as I tear it off.
He’s crying so I fetch the Thermos.
He has the most remarkable lashes,
like tiny old-fashioned brooms.
He tells me he thought I was serious.
Archangel Gabriel has time to regret
the double drop, the bump of ket,
the sweat beneath his halo
before turning his eyes to God.
I think I’m coming up.
In the mosh pit with the die-hards,
Perseus holds Medusa’s head
at arms-length, eyes averted,
appalled by her try-hard haircut.
For those about to rock.
Ophelia in the floatation tank,
blissed out, free of all thought,
a key for each chakra,
seaweed, blossom, party dress.
Let me stay right here forever.