Laura J. Bobrow

For Lack of a Coin

The boat was still tied to its mooring, its oars dangling free in the locks.
	The man in the stern sat, his puzzled brows furrowed.
	He could not see more than two inches before him.
The fog had closed everything in.

At first there’d been clear sky above him. The boatman played cards with a pal.  
	The sky was pure blue, the wavelets like diamonds,
	black smoke rising up from the boatman’s fat stogie
the only dark cloud to be seen.

But then in a flash, out of nowhere, this putrid miasma appeared.
	He felt the thick fog try to climb up his trousers.
	He scissored his legs closed and hugged himself tightly.
The tremors began in his chin.

In his head he could hear the sea roaring, the sound of a powerful surf.
	And over it all he could hear her voice wailing,
	a strange whining sound like a hundred cats mewling.
The noise was a harrowing din. 

Her voice now grew nearer and louder as if she were moving towards him.
	He flailed out, made contact, and struck at her wildly.
	First came a cry, He-e-y! and then there was silence
and emptiness where she had been. 

H-e-y!  first a Splash! and then … nothing. And now, too, the thick fog was gone.
	He cradled his head and swayed back and forth, moaning.  
	He-e-y! was repeated. Old timer! Hey mister!
Cold sweat beads broke out on his skin.

The boatman had hold of the painter. Time’s up. Are you feeling okay? 
	No obol today? Then I’ll see you tomorrow.
	I’ll come, said the old man. He stood up, unsteady.
His lips formed a vacuous grin.

They watched him limp past the sign, FERRY. The pal said, I’m sorry for him.
	He wanders the river. He shakes and he mumbles.
	He climbs in your skiff, but you don't row him over.
That’s right, Charon said, It’s the sin

of the people up there who interred him. They neglected to give him my fee.
	He relives his crime every day without ending. 
	For lack of a coin, he’s in limbo forever. 
That man sure had miserly kin! 

More than 100 of Laura J. Bobrow’s poems have appeared in various media including a fourth grade textbook in Abu Dhabi. A renaissance woman, she has had multiple careers: magazine editor, folksinger, artist. Her short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. She is, in addition, an acclaimed professional storyteller.