A restless wind was rising, and the waning moon was down
As I sat alone on a slab of stone at a crossroads far from town.
When the midnight bell rang out I stood and addressed that empty space:
“I’m here to trade, and I’m not afraid: are you going to show your face?”
A roil of smoke, a blood-red light and brimstone filled the air.
I fell to the floor; when I rose I saw the Devil standing there.
He looked me up and down and said, “Guess you know who I am:
But who the hell are you, and what do you do, and why should I give a damn?”
I took a deep breath and stood up tall and tried hard not to shake.
I said, “I’ve heard you’re a man of your word: there’s a deal I’d like to make.
“I beat you in a contest here and you give it all to me;
And if I don’t win -” but the Devil cut in: “You’ll spend eternity
“With me – yeah, I know how it works; I’ve heard it all before.
But as a matter of fact, that kind of pact ain’t what I’m lookin’ for.
Hell’s full of bluesmen, guitar-pickers, fiddle-players and guys
All so obsessed with bein’ the best they staked their own demise.”
“Hey, I’m not Faust, or Robert Johnson, mister,” I replied.
“I want to write rhyme that’ll last all time.” Satan laughed until he cried.
“A poet?” he gasped, and clutched his sides, “That’s the best I’ve heard yet, son.
What’s your big idea: that we stand out here trading sonnets till I say you’ve won?”
Then he fixed me with one dreadful eye. “I’m a liar, but I’ll tell you true:
Even I’ve no curse that’s as bad, or worse, than the one they’ve hung on you.
Never been much call for your kind of work, and that little is in decline.
There’s no hope in Hell, far as I can tell. And miracles ain’t my line.
But I like you, boy: I admire your sand. Here’s what I’m going to do.
I’ll fill your head with doubt and dread, and crack your heart in two.
I’ll tell you that the world’s against you, stoke your fires of rage,
And all you feel, what’s hard and real, will spill out on the page.
I’ll make you enigmatic, kinda dangerous – the sort
Her mum and dad will say is Bad. I’ll drench your every thought
With hopelessness and heartbreak, joy, serenity and song.
Won’t make a dime, but you’ll get your rhyme – you just see if I’m wrong.”
We sat on the stone and watched the stars. I said, “I hate to ask,
But now we’re done, O Wicked One, what’s your next infernal task?”
“I’m going down to Georgia.” “What, again?” “Yep. It’s a grind.
Didn’t go to plan with that fiddle-playin’ man, and now it’s on my mind.”
Then Satan stood. “Well, sayonara, son; I’m on my way.
I’m glad we met, and don’t forget the things I’ve had to say.”
Then he vanished, but he kept his word, for sure; no compromise.
I’ve told my tale in true detail. For that’s where the devil lies.
Wanted to do something with a whiff of the supernatural about it for 1 May – the ancient Celtic festival of Beltane. The story of doing a deal with the Devil – gaining wealth, long life or otherworldly musical prowess in exchange for your mortal soul – has been told (much better!) by everyone from Kit Marlowe and Goethe to the Charlie Daniels Band. It’s also a charge that’s been levelled at musicians from the virtuoso violinists Paganini (who actively milked the rumour for its publicity value) and Tartini, to the blues guitarist Robert Johnson. I’ve suffered similar accusations myself: my work is frequently described as diabolical… N.