Last year, I wandered through Greece, knocking on all the gates of Hades. I walked along the Acheron River, whose icy blue waters seemed colored by the spirits of the dead. Stalactites dripped onto the back of my neck as a silent boatman ferried me through the caves of Diros. I searched for the entrance to the sea cave at Cape Tainaron, scrambling over sharp rocks below the lighthouse as darkness fell. Sometimes I wondered if my search for the underworld tempted the Fates. I remembered Orpheus, the father of music, who charmed beasts with his lyre and descended into Tainaron to find his lost bride, Eurydice. With song, he implored Hades and Persephone to bring her back to life, and his words moved the deathless gods to tears. They granted his wish, allowing him to lead her out of the underworld on one condition: he must walk ahead of her, not looking back until they left the dark halls of death. Approaching the surface, the farthest reach of light, Orpheus feared his love’s silence behind him. He turned to look and saw her sink back into the depths, reaching out to him and bidding him farewell for the last time.
The life-size and realistic bronze has stood on its parklet street corner for so long that no one remembers whom it represented or what it memorializes. The sculptor had done a good job. It looks pleased with itself, proud of its accomplishments in life. Someone’s hat, an ordinary tweed cap, green and brown, not even worth describing, has fallen off, blown away, and come to rest upside down on the pavement underneath the bronze. Slowly the cap is filling up with coins and bills from passers-by. Clearly, they think this is not public art, but a street-artist slathered in metallic paint from head to foot, holding a pose. And the cap must be his.
A man has stopped to look. He is underdressed for the weather and disturbingly unkempt, talking out loud with nobody to listen. In the old days, we would have taken him to be schizophrenic. Nowadays, surely he must be wearing earbuds and conversing with his girlfriend. We do not give him a second glance. He continues exchanging messages with his teeth.
The bronze figure looks pleased with itself.
We drop a quarter in the cap.
The night river calms me with its slow dirty movements. I walk home briskly, in a black baseball cap. I work at the fringes of the day. I write poetry in bed and criticism in the bath. Among my friends here, I have a man who calls me love names in four languages. Once, in a moment, I thought I wanted to die of his pleasure, but that was a wound speaking. The history of this place abounds with wounds. Mobs of vandals have ransacked the villas. A very rich man on his deathbed from a corrupt family who loves the arts was fed a medicine of powdered pearls.