The Good Devil

Kurt Brown

He was bad at torture. Flubbed his first flaying.
Dropped his pointed trident
into a lake of oil and had to scorch himself
diving in to retrieve it. Came out looking
like a channel swimmer
sheathed in pitch. Once he stepped
on his own tail during a papal dis-
embowelment, dropped
the stomach of His Holiness
on the flagmarl, which rolled into a nearby
flue. They had to fetch it out
with iron ropes and sticks.
And once, while the other demons drew
and quartered-neatly
splitting a false prophet like a chicken-
he was busy gazing off, admiring the tapestry of fire
that flickered on the horizon.
He missed the special Days of Profanity,
the Blasphemers' Sabbath,
the millennial Parade of Pagans-
Hell's entire Calendar of Sinful Occasions.
And when that poet showed up--
the Florentine with sallow skin-he was off
gathering teeth in the Betrayer's Oven
to polish and string for his mother.
The Gossips assembled, glad for work, tongues
humming like locusts
during the first Pharaonis plague.
Rumor stretched its four necks and rose on leathery wings.
When the order came up
from below winding its way through the bowels
of authority to ordinary drudges like him,
he was banished and had to hand in
his pitchfork, tines unbloodied,
shaft still immaculate of martyrs' grease.
He had to slouch in utter shame
through the Gates of Perdition into a new
and chastening light to make his living
by the sweat of his labor-
a poor farmer, now,
condemned to delve in wet earth like a simple worm,
season after endless season.
And everything he touched throve.
Everything he planted grew
in prolific, earth-nurturing rows
ready to be consumed,
glistening with everlasting life.

Copyright ©1997 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.

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