Argyle the sin-eater came the day after—

a narrow, hungry man whose laughter

and the wicked upturn of his one eyebrow

put the local folks in mind of trouble.

But still they sent for him and sat him down

amid their whispering contempts to make

his table near the dead man’s middle,

and brought him soda bread and bowls of beer

and candles, which he lit against the reek

that rose off that impenitent cadaver

though bound in skins and soaked in rosewater. 

Argyle eased the warm loaf right and left

and downed swift gulps of beer and venial sin

then lit into the bread now leavened with

the corpse’s cardinal mischiefs, then he said

“Six pence, I’m sorry.” And the widow paid him. 

Argyle took his leave then, down the land

between hay-ricks and Friesians with their calves

considering the innocence in all

God’s manifold creation but for Man,

and how he’d perish but for sin and mourning. 

Two parishes between here and the ocean:

a bellyful tonight is what he thought,

please God, and breakfast in the morning.

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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