A Nekuia in Five Sonnets
I found a way to pay—two coins of gold
placed on my eyelids bound with folds of black
tied tight around my head. The Boatman told
me, “None alive have crossed and then come back.”
“But what about famed Orpheus seeking Eurydice,
or Theseus trying to save Persephone,
or wily Odysseus who was allowed to pass
in search of wisdom from the dead Tieresias
and spoke with Achilles—who’d ‘rather be a slave
than king among the breathless, gibbering dead’?”
“Do you think yourself an equal to those men,
the greatest of a Great Age? Do you believe you have
the Power to thwart that Night, this Land of Dread?
I’ll wait here for a while. But I must go back again.
“The dead mount quickly. In droves they come. No end
to my weariness. They will not cease to wend
toward Acheron—and I their Ferryman, Guide
across this River to this Nether side,
I, Charon, I too must do my part.
The Three Fates have decreed it from the start.
“Go now and see the woeful, wailing shades,
those dwellers in the dark Demesne of Hades.
Know that if I am gone—should you return—
that you are forever here. Too late to yearn
for the Land of the Living—though you can see its shore
just over yonder. That zone you’ll see no more.”
And so, I turned and crossed that beach’s sand,
blacker than night—and into the Foredoomed Land.
I found the cave mouth guarded by the Dog,
He whose three necks each held a snarling head.
I had no lyre to lull it into sleep
like Orpheus. But my spell cast The Fog
of Somnus—learned from forbidden text I’d read.
Quite soon I was able to pass the Hound, to creep
up to the gate, above which hung a sign:
“Abandon Hope, all ye who enter here.”
I entered and walked down a steep incline.
There is a cold wind ever wafting there.
Mid darkest shadows, shades’ moaning never ceases,
but shifts in abhorrent chorus—awful to hear!—
bewailing their plight, the Fate from which no release is.
The Dead flocked ‘round. But none dared to come near.
I had prepared all—before I crossed Styx flood,
I poured into a pan a skin of blood!
No wine would summon the shade I sought to find,
she who had been these five weeks in my mind
and in my heart. My cherished wife had died
too suddenly, too soon. I’d not be denied!
I’d studied all dark, occult, forbidden lore;
I’d bring her back with me—to Live once more!
She came. She was in awe to see me there.
With spells, I’d caught Old Hades unaware.
Yes, like brave Orpheus—but I would not fail!
We’d not look back…no Triple-Dog blocked our trail.
I noticed that Persephone was crying?
Charon, amazed, completed my wife’s undying.
He ferried us back. Now she is here with me.
But we have nothing of the bliss now past.
There is a dead look in her demon eye.
This Thing is not my wife! It is not she!
Yes, the Living can go, return—but at the last—
The Dead should remain. And now I yearn to die.
Alas! I’ve sought these months to send her back,
More of forbidden scrolls—no lines unlearned.
Attempts to unmake her—there has been no lack.
I’d as soon in fiery Phlegethon be burned,
Or that I might, drowned in Styx, forget this sin.
But no. I shall arrange to go back again.
No coins, no blindfold. I’ll see once more my friend—
Who’ll ferry us across.… This time my rightful end.
BIO: Frank Coffman is a retired professor of English, Creative Writing, and Journalism. He has published speculative poetry and fiction in a variety of journals, magazines, anthologies, and collections.
His major collections of verse are: The Coven’s Hornbook & Other Poems (2019), Black Flames & Gleaming Shadows (2020), and Eclipse of the Moon (2021). A formalist, traditional verse poet, he considers himself primarily a sonneteer, but his experiments and innovations with form cross national, cultural, and period boundaries and a plethora of forms.
His collection of occult detective stories, Three Against the Dark: Collected Dr. Venn Occult Detective Mysteries was released in 2022. A collection of short fiction, Maxime Miris: Fifteen Tales of the Weird, Horrific, and Supernatural, will be released in early 2023.
He is a member of the Horror Writers Association and the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association. He created and moderates the Weird Poets Society Facebook Group.