The poem came from a prose scene in a novel I've written about a young policeman who is a psychic medium, haunted by his long dead little brother. His brother drowned in the river Severn and his body was never found...the Severn is his Styx. At last the young policeman calls on Charon to come and fetch his brother home...
Boat on the river
They murmur, milling lonely on the quay
The newly dead wait anxiously
Watching for the square black sails
It does not sail so much as glide or float
When finally they see the boat
Looming through the mist of last gasps
The solitary figure at the helm
Charon, son of Erebus and Nyx
Unsmiling sailor of the Styx
The boat is moored so swiftly no-one sees
Then just like that, he’s standing on the quay
No-one even saw him disembark.
The head turns sharply, shadowed in its hood
Charon, keen-eyed, sizing up the queue
The anxious dead poke out their tongues
To show the coin, the payment for the crossing
Like melting ice he glides, a courteous
Nod, approving them in silence one by one
A baby snuffles, swaddled on its mother’s arm
He bends and gently chucks the baby’s chin
Turns to the mother, just a girl, so pale and thin
The baby’s got the fare, now what about her?
She pokes out her own tongue, shows the coin
A prayerful husband, broken, placed there
To land them safe together on the farthest shore
The son of Night and Shadow moves on smoothly as before
The dead girl rocks her baby, thankful, smiling now
If they’d got no pennies would he take them anyway?
Take them as a catch-weight, look the other way?
Or deny them, leave them stranded in eternity?
A hundred years until they go across for free
Those are the rules, so the ancient legends say
But who’s in charge here, anyway?