I Sisyphus by Nels Hanson

First king of Corinth I was evil and took

pleasure in tyranny, murdered my guests

and deflowered Merope of the Pleiades,

the virgin nymph who hides her face for

shame she married me. I hated Salmoneus

my brother and seduced Tyro, my niece

to destroy her father and wear his crown

but she sensed my plot and quickly killed

our children I planned to use as pawns.

I betrayed Zeus, telling the River God

Asopus where his daughter Aegina lay

hidden. Greedy Zeus had stolen her for

his lust. In reward a sweet spring poured

from the Corinthian Acropolis but hate’s

arrow flew swiftly enough. Zeus ordered

Thanatos, dark God of the Dead, to chain

me below in Tartarus. The first day I asked

my Keeper how the iron bonds worked

and when he proudly showed me I locked

him fast in his own underworld. Now no

one above met death but bloodthirsty Ares,

God of War, grew furious his slain victims

wouldn’t die in his daily one-sided slaughter.

Thus Zeus gave me back to the King of Hell

and I push this boulder up the same steep

hill. As I reach the crest the stone tilts and

I dive from its path as it rolls back, before

I descend, always slave to the gods’ cruel

spell. And yet didn’t I give man eternal life

for a little while? Who’s God now? Where

are they that ruled more selfishly than I?

Now I am God, my useless effort the way

of life as Everyman’s toil mirrors my task

and takes my name, the awful title Sisyphean.

Endlessly we lift our burden and like royal

mastiffs race our master down to start again,

biding our time, waiting until the gods return

and I catch and chain them to these rocks.


Nels Hanson has worked as a farmer, teacher and contract writer/editor. His stories have appeared in Antioch Review, Texas Review, Black Warrior Review, Southeast Review, Montreal Review, and other journals, and  stories were nominated for Pushcart Prizes in 2010 and 2012. Poems have appeared in Poetry  Porch, Atticus Review, Red Booth Review, Meadowlands Review, Emerge Literary Review,  Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine,  and other magazines, and are in press at Oklahoma Review, Paradise Review, Hoot & Hare Review, Citron Review, and Poetry Porch.