Pythia Barbara

© 2006 Katherine Williams
"Pythia Barbara"appears in
Kakalak 2007: An Anthology
of Carolina Poets,
Lisa Zerkle,
Richard Allen Taylor and Beth
Cagle Burt, Eds. Charlotte:
Main Street Rag Publishing Co.

This poem also appears in
Ripple Effect (2017)
Carol Bass, Ed.
Maine Authors Publishing

In ancient Greece, the Pythia was an oracle who inhaled subterranean vapors to induce visions, and Charon ferries the dead across the River Styx to dwell forever in the Underworld.
Ninety-six in the shade, last errand
of the day, I was a free man

in Paris
bursts from the window next to hers
as she loads brown paper bags into the car,

kiwi fruit, baby spinach, sourdough
baguette, pomegranate, prosciutto—

lately their restaurant bill has gotten
entirely out-of-hand—radio bulletin

cuts to Hartsfield International, crash
of a Delta communter out of CHS—

Or maybe the song was Amelia, it
was just a false alarm.
At the red

light, in front of her car,
yellow butterflies catch fire.

Aiken is pure Americana,
she thinks—why bother flying to Atlanta,

it takes less time down curvy two-lane
roads from here. The last bag rips, being

carried inside. Oranges from Mexico
scorch fingertips, rolling from hand to bowl.

Soapy dishwater smells of burning wires.
The souls of the passengers mingle and rise

to heaven on ink-black smoke.
The refrigerator crackles and sparks.

White ashes smelling of singed hair
descend upon the sacred Chattahoochee River.

Charon meets them at peak adrenalin,
is how the poem will come to be written.

She inhales chicken simmering with celery, kale,
and thyme. Friendly Charon is texting for help,

and the flight crew feels safe now, as he lands
his boat at the river’s edge and extends his hand.