The Coin

by Christopher Reid

Being dead, I was ready for
the journey. They put a coin,
one obol, the standard fare,
under my tongue – now still,
but not yet cold.
I had not been told
that this would happen.
But a shut mouth is, I thought,
as safe a purse as any.
The taste, which would have made me
wince and scowl before,
and spit the nasty thing out,
was neither here nor there.
So I took my pill without a fuss,
and set off like a child
walking for the first time
to catch the morning bus,
under a sky both bright
and hazy, fraught
with promise of adventure.
The world was just beginning,
there could be no end,
and the coin was my sole
possession, my secret friend.
So long as my lips kept tight,
what could go wrong?
Oh, I wish they had warned me
about the boatman who,
with his strong, hard fingers –
stinking of fish, or something –
prised my jaw open and withdrew
the mite, the token,
the less than a button,
that he claimed as his due.