Monday, May 19, 2014



“Having found my soul an encumbrance I could not
Simply give it to the servants to dispose of. Imagine
Riding through Copenhagen and coming upon one’s soul
Dozing in the sun near the harbor! Worse, suppose my cousins
Got hold of it and set it in a field to scare crows? Scarred I may be --
No. Scarred I am beyond denial but pride I have still.
Some rules still apply; a lady – still less a Baroness –
Does not engage in barter. The only course, I saw,
Was to give my soul away. We are a small country
Hell does not maintain an embassy here; the Belgians,
For a fee, represent its interests. I stopped by one autumn day
And filled out the usual forms, using the space left
To indicate the seller’s requested price to write
‘Free-will donation.’ This upset the clerk, did I know
He asked, his left eye burning, how valuable a soul was?
How hard to replace? He stopped just short of calling me a fool
(I can do the blazing eye trick too) and asked me to reconsider
And fill in a price.

                        “ My dear man – if that’s what you are –
My ancestors were thieves and plunderers. They murdered;
They broke oaths; they had cold hearts and deep thirsts
And gripped hard what came their way. But they were not
Traders; no more am I. If you don’t want my soul
Say so, and I will give it to the Church or find a way
To drown it fathoms deep.’ He shrugged finally
And said I should come back; he would meanwhile
Contact his home office. As I left I could hear my soul
Thinking unkind thoughts of me.

“Three weeks and a day later I returned. A tall old man
Whom I had seen at my sisters’ parties was there. As much
As was anyone, he said, he was the Devil. (When I was six
My governess had made me learn proper forms of address.
A bishop is ‘Your Worship,’ the Emperor of China is
‘Most Serene Altitude.” The Devil is ‘Your Dread Eminence’
And is always called upon to chose the first dance
When he attends balls in his proper person.) “I am honored,
Baroness; few there are who make gifts to me. The necessities
Of my position have made me a commercial traveller
Living in a world of shrewd bargaining. One grows hard.”
“No one,” I told him “thinks any the less of you for it.
Whatever else he is, all know the Devil is a gentleman.”
“Ah, you make me two gifts; I am pleased with them both.
You have my gratitude.” Save for a few remarks about the weather
And a desire that I remember him to my sister
That was the end of our meeting.
                                        “It was some years before I realized
That there had been an exchange of gifts. I remain nearsighted
But stopped walking into things and can pick out
Even now, when I am as old as time (but less nimble),
A four leafed clover from the midst of a large meadow.
I am the first to spy a new moon; I sleep well
And all that has happened to me since that day
I have been able to turn into a story.”

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