top of page
  • Scott Williamson

Ferryman's Day Off

Venice, Grand Canal (2016)

I've been writing, and thanks to Tupelo Press publishing a poem a day during December. Click here to read more about the 30/30 Project, and read nine of my fabulous new colleagues, including Tupelo's founder and publisher, acclaimed poet Jeffrey Levine. Below is my poem for Day 27. Thank you for reading, and if you are able and so inlined, for supporting my work and the creative artistry of a fellow non-profit organization, another innovative and vital small business.


The Ferryman’s Day Off (or, Charon takes a break)


It must be a thankless job

rowing folks from shore

to bank for anything but

a little coin

Were you

a writer

you’d get stories

prompts day after day


but you’d have to

remember them in-

between shifts across

the Styx or Lethe

(Did rowers operate

the waters of forgetfulness?

Consult the ancients…)

Besides patrons

do you

talk to

anyone else

save your colleagues?


if your job is rowing

dead souls across

the pungent canals

of Venice because

face it Charon

your ferryboat is

now a pimped-out



II. Post-scriptum (Death in Venice)

Of course the gods

have fled, Friedrich.

No one listens to Britten anymore.

You will meet an operatic Doppelgänger,

a factotum, a fay traveler,

no doubt. He rows you well.

Dionysus bests

Apollo with choral dances

and a boy Eros.


passion leads to knowledge,

Phaedrus. Drink this cup

before the curtain falls.


III. Song of the Night, (or Rowing across the Wörthersee with Mahler)

Do you know how

to make a trumpet?

You take a hole

and wrap brass around it

is how Mahler

answered the question

“How do you compose?”

His Seventh Symphony

the odd-child

Song of the Night

began in a boat

as he was rowed

across a lake in

Southern Austria.

Wait. What is that

“Pardon me, Herr?”

Yes, that is it –

Your oars played

the start of

my new work!”

It conjures Charon

rowing the soon-

dead artist

across the Styx


N.B.: The references in the “Post-scriptum” section of the poem are to Schiller and Hölderlin, and Britten’s operatic adaptation of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. The third section is based on the origins of the Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) symphony referenced.

This poem is for Steven White.

Wörthersee, 1996; personal b&w photograph

15 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page