Some sins Argyle couldn’t stomach much.

Sins against virgin girls and animals,

women bearing children, men gone blind

from all but self-abusive reasons gave him

stomach troubles, like over seasoned meat

he oughtn’t to have eaten, but he always did.

Some nights those evils woke him in his sleep,

gaseous and flatulent, bent over his puke bowl,

resolved again to draw the line somewhere,

to leave the dirty work to younger men,

or anyway, to up his prices.

Maybe steady work with nuns whose vices

were rumored to go down like tapioca.

But no, those clever ladies lived forever

and for all their charities would starve the man

who counted for his feed on their transgressions.

Better to go on as he always had,

eating sins and giving souls their blessed rest.

What matter that his innards heaved against

a steady diet of iniquities

or that children worked their mayhem on his head

by carving pumpkins up in fearful effigies?

He had his holy orders and his mission.

He had the extreme unction of his daily bread.

Thomas Lynch’s most recent books are The Sin-Eater—A Breviary and The Good Funeral, co-authored with Thomas G. Long. He has taught in the Department of Mortuary Science at Wayne State University, the Graduate Writing Program at the University of Michigan, and at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

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Published in the 2011-08-12 issue: View Contents
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