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.

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,
Joni Mitchell sings on the radio
I was a free man in Paris
as she loads her sacks into the car,

kiwi fruit, baby spinach, sourdough
bread, prosciutto, pomegranate—
their restaurant bill is getting

entirely out-of-hand—when the radio
shifts to Hartsfield International,
crash of a flight out of Charleston.
Or maybe Joni was singing Amelia,

it was just a false alarm.

In front of the windshield
yellow butterflies burst into flame.

Why bother to fly to Atlanta
anyway, the drive is so short—
if far more deadly. Oranges
from Mexico scorch her fingers,

rolling from hand to bowl.
The refrigerator crackles and sparks.
The souls of the passengers rise

to heaven on ink-black smoke.
The dishwater smells of burning wire.
Their ashes fall into the sacred
Chattahoochee River.

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

She inhales steam of chicken
simmering with celery, leek,
and thyme. Friendly Charon
is texting for help, and the crew

feels safe now as he ties
his boat at the river’s edge,
extends his hand.