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William Heyen – Ⅳ

The Devil’s Song 




Once within a rhyme

within the oldest olden time


a farmer bought a devil

handsome red-shelled fellow


the first in memory to surface

at the country marketplace


other gawkers were afraid

but our farmer proved intrepid


(needing help with so much work

to ease his aching back)


black horns & walleyes & black cleft hooves

many before have fallen in love


“he lives to toil” the merchant said

“keep the tasks above his head


“he’ll eat little and drink nothing

he won’t talk but might be praying”


& then this fellow sidled away

not since seen in the light of day


the farmer hauled his purchase home

one day one night by mountain road


its cage creaked on his mule-drawn cart

but did not break apart


they drew the attention of pine & owl

the mule heard laughter from the moon’s sickle


the devil squatted & seemed innocent

of guile or malevolent intent


wife & three young children met them

the kids squealed & asked to pet him


but the woman met his stare & knew

what the devil had been through


she lost all color in her eyes

& dreamt that night of paradise


as though she’d reawakened there

with fire roses in her hair


as though she’d witnessed the arcangel’s

destined disobedience & betrayal



next morn our farmer fitted a collar

& ox’s harness of thick leather


to the devil’s crustacean shoulders

he had to cut vestigial feathers


the devil hissed his forked tongue but agreed

seemed anxious to furrow a field


he pulled the ploughshare easily

through roots & stones & honeybees


the farmer’s field & a neighbor’s & another’s

so much for laborious country labor


late afternoon they went woodchopping

four winters of fuel by evening


the axe entrusted to the devil’s claws

a whistling blade among the trees


the scales along his spine fanned o-

pen then shut with every stroke


then back to its cage it ate

just red onions from its plate


it would not touch the water

not a sip or licked dipped finger


so it went on for days & seasons …

the region’s farmers on vacation


from plowing reaping cutting wood

& all was peace & all waxed good


the owner’s wife still dreamt her dreams

pupils of flowers were filled with flames


her own irises an absence of color

her children teased & laughed at her


at night in the barn the devil glowed

it sang to itself a ballad weird


(don’t try to penetrate that song

fated since heaven where it was born)


no one ever saw it sleep

it didn’t care what watch they’d keep


tra-la-lally this devil’s story

born from the stars in devils’ glory



such order to field-barn-home-larder

three summers later our farmer returned to market


thought to rest his prize possession

left his devil behind with wife & children


with nothing to do for once but slumber

& gorge on red onions without number


his master drank with friends two days or three

not a care in the world … but became uneasy


thinking of home-larder-fields-barn

& that silent spade-tailed one


so bought some things devils might yearn for

liquor & berry syrup & milk of ambrosia


he left for home urging his mules faster & faster

one night one day he at last got closer


to where he saw smoke distantly

where his life was supposed to be


he left his cart & ran ahead

his whole being suffused with dread


as though this were a nightmare

of mules braying in his ear


his children were sickled their hearts eaten

their mother raped & nailed to a tree


(two boys & a girl if the truth be specific

but which was which in this horrific)


barn only a smoldering ruin wherein

on ashes sat our innocent satan


handsome still & perhaps still thirsty

but restless for this reunion & ready


twiddling his thumbs he had no other

work to do he tightened his own collar


pretended not to understand just why

his master wailed in agony


who looked for his axe which he couldn’t find

then screamed at the devil until going blind


the devil kept twiddling his thumbs faster

& faster into a blur


faster & faster than our passing days

or whispers of fear at the marketplace


               tra-la-lally this devil’s story 

               born from the stars in devils’ glory