The one condition Hades had laid down
seemed all too simple. There must be some trick.
No monsters chasing – Orpheus got to pick
his path back to the world. This was the crown
of his achievement – he had sung in Hell
and won a boon. And yet he could not trust
the god of shades, and punishment and dust,
not to deceive him, not to try to sell
him some cloud Eurydice, some fake
that melts or kills. And yet he walked and sang
and listened to the footsteps. And they rang
quite false, and so he looked. For Hell will take
your fear and make the real thing seem the cheat
You trick yourself – your doubt Hell’s sole deceit.
Afterwards self-contempt the sharpest pain.
He wished that he could do it all again
And get it right. Not see her walk away
looking at him with pity, gentle scorn
‘ you could not help it dear – for you were born
flawed because human. Now go back to day’
She said. And the affection in her speech
was worse than scorn because it hurt his pride.
He realized that ever since she died
he had assumed her death would somehow teach
him some great wisdom. And he’d learned instead
poets can harrow hell, force gods, yet lose.
We choose our words. Mistakes we also choose.
His best was not enough. She was still dead.