Five Rivers to Cross

I sat down by the river Styx to wait
upon Phlegyas, ferryman of old,
among the uninterred who congregate
and those who do not have a coin of gold.
The boat arrived—I did not hesitate,
but climbed quickly aboard, and acted bold.
Traversing this River of Hatred, done;
my trip through Hades, only just begun.

Cocytus next, the wide River of Tears,
where those who spilled innocent blood lament.
Upon this score, I knew my slate was clear;
across I rode, and not a coin was spent.
I paused before the next river in fear.
At Phlegethon, was judged harmful intent,
this River of Fire glowing hot and red,
consumed all wicked souls for lives they led.

I passed that horrid stream, but at a cost:
one of the two gold coins within my hands.
Now at the Acheron, all could be lost,
for paying there had been part of my plan.
I knew Charon could not be double-crossed,
instead, he must be made to understand,
his ferry over this River of Pain
I had to ride, yet my last coin retain.

Upon the banks, I met a neutral soul
who gave to me his coin; he had to stay…
for passionless, you cannot pay the toll.
Now, for my ride, I had a coin to pay.
Elysium was still my final goal,
the river Lethe the last one in my way.
A River of Forgetfulness, I think;
though I’m not sure… for I was made to drink.

Note: I have taken some liberties with Greek mythology here, but the five rivers and the two ferrymen are true to the spirit of the mythos.



Life’s Lonely Appendix

Fading memories blow through my dry empty soul,
wrapped in echoes of tormented silence and pain
like a hot desert wind, past the crumbling facade
of a ghost town, abandoned, where tumbleweeds reign.

Black emotional stretch marks carved into my heart,
casting ebony shadows, now deeply embossed
in striations and patterns that spell out your name
etched in acid-rain tears, spilled for all that I’ve lost.

When I let myself ponder the cruelty of fate,
the unfairness still twists in my guts like a knife.
Since you left me behind without saying goodbye,
deep blue loneliness colors the days of my life.

In my dreams you’re still here and still sharing my bed,
then I wake all alone, with your voice in my head.



Dusty Grein is an author, poet and graphics designer from Federal Way, Washington. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest, where his daughter is hard at work securing her college degree while still in high school, and raising him right. When he is not busy writing, he donates a great deal of his time and graphics talent. In honor of his grandson Eddy, lost to SIDS at 13 weeks old, he creates free memorial images for bereaved families, with a special focus on infant and pregnancy loss. His blog, From Grandpa’s Heart… is followed by fans around the world.



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13 Responses

  1. Sally Cook

    .Dear Dusty –
    I find the somber flow of your meter deeply conducive to meditative thought. A fine poem.

    • Dusty Grein

      Thanks Sally. This one was actually a lot of fun to research, and gave me a whole new appreciation for Greek traditions and their complex theology/mythology.

      • Lilly Lawler

        Hi Dusty,
        I’m doing my fall final project on your poem “Five Rivers to Cross” and I absolutely love the ending, this poem was so fun to read. I got to learn a lot about Greek mythology as well. I’m curious, what was the inspiration behind the poem?

      • Dusty Grein

        Lilly – The inspiration here was two-fold. First, Dante’s epic poem has been converted into plays, operas, and both animated and live action motion pictures, so there is definitely something that strikes a heavy chord in the public psyche, so I knew the subject had potential. Secondly, I wanted a story that could be wrapped up in a circular fashion inside 32 lines, and I love to challenge myself, so I did a lot of research on the ancient Greek’s beliefs about the underworld, and tried very hard to pay homage to the spirit of this mythos, if not the actual stories of old.

  2. C.B. Anderson

    Of course, as I assume you intended, the final couplet of the last stanza of the first poem was a masterstroke which nearly lifted me out of my seat. Such organic involuted devices are rare and precious. Had I written this poem, methinks I would have had this conclusion in mind from the very beginning.

    • Dusty Grein

      CB. Thank you for your kind remarks, The ending lines were actually what sparked the idea for the poem. When I realized that the final river was (in most accounts) Lethe, the idea of a narration that ended in that sip bloomed in my mind.

  3. Joe Tessitore

    What a line-up; first Martin Rizley and then you!

    Reminds me of the championship Yankees of my youth.

    • Dusty Grein

      Well, from one of my favorite heavy-hitters in the society, I consider that extremely high praise indeed. Thank you.

  4. David Watt

    Dusty, the research put into your first poem has really paid off.
    The concluding couplets to each poem, the first humorous, and the second touchingly sad, are highly effective in their own way.

    • Dusty Grein

      Thanks David. I knew that to do the mythos justice, without resorting to multiple volumes (Dante was tireless), I would have to condense a narrow slice, so I read as many versions of the underworld rivers as I could.

  5. Martin Rizley

    Dusty, I really enjoyed both of these poems. The first, a fascinating journey through the Greek underworld. The second, a heartwrenching lament. The image of “black emotional stretch marks carved into my heart” is striking, drawing an analogy between the pains of grief that accompany loss and the pains of a woman in labor.

    • Dusty Grein

      Martin, I will admit that my metaphors and symbolism were not deeply embedded in these two, especially compared to your beautiful epic tribute to the birth of the nation. The fact that my analogy came across between life and death, and the scars that accompany both bookends of our lives are similar, is gratifying. Thank you so much for your comments.

  6. James A. Tweedie

    Dusty, sorry for the slow response. It’s taken me a while to process what you have shared. On the one hand a diverting tale drawn from classical mythology tracing a dramatic journey from life to death through judgment into a peaceful eternity and, on the other hand, a cathartic confrontation with grief and loss. In my recent Valentine’s Day poem, I wrote,
    O, where is love? You’ll find it in the pain
    _That binds a mother to her newborn child;
    It seems counter-intuitive that love, the most precious, beautiful, and life-affirming gift that two human beings can give to one another, is so closely associated with pain, especially when it is seemingly swept away in the grief and loss that you so poignantly describe. Yet, the measure of the pain often reflects the measure of the love so, in that sense, the pain not only bears witness to the immeasurable glory of what was lost but, in an even deeper way, is also an affirmation that it can never be taken away.

    Dusty, it took courage to share your grief with us so openly. The great pain you describe in your second poem reflects the continuing presence of an unquenchable love; a love which was, and will always be, a blessing for you and your family.

    Sometimes, a poem is more than a poem.


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