by Sonya Taaffe

When you came for my soul, it was not stealing. The price had been paid, in cold coin under my tongue, and you did not take it from my mouth as you took my hand; you were the golden flicker in all that darkness, the shadows of the world seen from the underside, the sideways slip and double of a lamp-flame burning on my sight to guide me as the fixed stars lead the sailor over the sea’s broad back, in the night, on the cold gulfs, here where the ground dropped away beneath my feet and I walked a road that led nowhere, your hand warm as sunlight and steady as stone around my fingers, certain when the paths forked, when the ways crossed, sure and swift until we came to the brink of the river whose water did not sheen with your light, that pulled at the pebbles as though it picked over the bones of something dead, and then you released me.

Like casting a snake’s skin, you slid between those who see the sun and those who are shadow, those who eat immortality and those whose lives gutter out, and I moved only one way between the worlds: downward, inward, under the earth and all that was rich in it, to the river’s hateful shore. Because you had been gentle, because you had smiled so that I would entrust my soul to your touch and never believe a word spoken in solemnity, I watched until you were out of sight.

But you were never out of sight; at the corner of the eye, at the place where the shoulder blades meet beneath the skin, I felt you. In piled stones, in plucked music, you were there. In deceit, in honest dealing, I had known you all the years of my life: you were the word unspoken on everyone’s tongue. You were in the next breath we drew. You had held my hand when my breath had gone, when all I carried in my mouth was the charge of my crossing; you were as certain and untrustworthy as the turn of every season, even in this place where there are no seasons and no change, and when you were gone from the shore I spat the coin into my hand, your votive, and turned to meet the ferryman with a smile.

Sonya Taaffe has loved mythology since she could read, told stories since she could speak, and hasn’t stopped yet. A Brandeis graduate, she is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Classics at Yale University. Her poem, “Matlacihuatl’s Gift,” won a 2003 Rhysling Award; her short fiction and poetry have appeared in various magazines, including Not One of Us, Star*Line, Mythic Delirium, and City Slab.