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 is a writer and funeral director. He lives in Michigan and West Clare, Ireland.
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