Traveling with the Ferryman

I am damned close to the edge

because this golden Asperger’s boy

was assigned a three-page term paper

on Purgatory. Rather than write it, he bites

his nails as I try to channel him through the grand

array of human experience. He wrenches his feet

back and forth. It’s impossible to explain

that someday he too may be teetering

to a long ago gap. How can I say, As you sway

in hard-scrabble history, stay steady

for Cerberus and his rough rows of dark

teeth, the matted fur. Do not fear the crowding. Sit

pinned to night. He twirls his hair in his right hand.

He asks a pointless question, one filled with the enormity

of existence. I’m impatient, and he’s in no hurry

to think through the future of his past. We pretend

his mind is not blurred with life’s strongest

currents, that he knows lamentation and cold,

when instead he has changed course

to a track meet on Tuesday and his family’s trip

to Alaska this summer—Will they see elk? From the endless

abyss, I nudge him and he scrutinizes

the window. We’re reaching the irreducible

deadline. What will it take for him to hunch

in the innermost, to imagine he’s in a stained boat

on a backdraft of previous days? Oh, to hell with it!

It’s like having three heads, doing this tutoring job

with a boy in his reveries. Just as I give up, he looks to the side

without seeing, and says astrally So…, inching around

his unnavigable thoughts as he often does. He intones

with a voice thick and wrestled, The ferryman will pull an obolus

from our weeping eyes, showing each of our sins.

This 16-year-oldon the verge of failing his classes

tells me, We have to yield up our runneled faces.

He shrugs and looks off. Then we sit in what is left

of winter, and the air seems fated with silence,

but still, it’s made of air.

Lauren Camp is the author of two volumes of poetry, most recently The Dailiness (Edwin E. Smith, 2013), winner of the New Mexico Press Women 2014 Poetry Book Prize and a World Literature Today “Editor’s Pick.” Her third book, One Hundred Hungers, was selected by David Wojahn for the Dorset Prize, and will be published by Tupelo Press in 2016. Her poems have appeared in Brilliant Corners, Beloit Poetry Journal, Linebreak, Nimrod, J Journal, and elsewhere. She hosts “Audio Saucepan,” a global music/poetry program on Santa Fe Public Radio, and writes the blog Which Silk Shirt.