Katharine Johnsen

On Anticipation

After a painting by Joachim Patinir, c. 1520

Here Charon is caught again on his journey,
this trip his return, boat heavy, guiding
his passenger between the two worlds

the river straddles. One shore a paradise
of angels, peacocks, fruit trees, its entrance
blocked by rocks, he will row this corpse

toward the other: a hell of washed-up
bones—dark fires burning, smoke rising,
where the three heads of Cerberus growl

their welcome. Charon ferries
his empty-handed passenger, obol
tucked under tongue. How small

they are together. Charon’s boat navigates
the familiar licks and stones of the river;
he anticipates bodies, heart-

sink of death, his travail. With each visit—​​
dementia and depression settle deeper
in my grandmother’s mind: on the counter

medication she sometimes forgets, sometimes refuses
to take. Experience has taught me to pack
a suitable dress, be flexible with dates.

We sit together on the pool deck. Somewhere
a river rises and falls. She drifts off.
As if to speak, her mouth falls open.

Katharine Johnsen earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she was the Bernice Kert Fellow, and her BA from Emory University. She has received a scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg