Crossroads

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.

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13 thoughts on “Crossroads

  1. WOW! After the first lines, I was thinking ” The devil went down to Georgia ” no clue where I have heard it nor why exactly I was thinking that, and then I read the rest, to be short: this is great! xx

  2. Ah Ina, you got me: ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ by the Charlie Daniels Band is exactly what I had in mind – and the follow-up called ‘The Devil Went Back to Georgia’ by Mark O’Connor (who inspired yesterday’s piece) and the old crooner standard ‘Georgia on My Mind’ gave me the second-to-last verse! I had so much fun writing this, as you can probably tell – glad you liked it! N.xx

  3. I shall stop smiling some day, but not this evening even though the hour is getting late. Brimstone is burning beneath your words, Nick, and if the Devil visits you again, please keep him away from me. Writing poetry is devilish work enough for any of us. O this is delightful, truly, truly delightful. One of my favorite tales is The Devil and Daniel Webster by the poet Stephen Vincent Benet, but this joins my lexicon of inspired works of literature, especially for would-be poets who are not famous. Sometimes I think you will be, my friend.

    • You’re very kind, Tom: I don’t know that I’ll ever be famous and I’m not sure I’d like it if I were, to be honest. I wouldn’t mind being notorious, though…I’m glad you liked this piece; I had a blast writing it and I must confess it’s one of the few things I’ve written lately that I keep re-reading myself! I love being a sonneteer and exploring formal poetry, but sometimes the devil in me just has to cut loose and produce a bit of harmless nonsense like this. And boy, it’s fun – if a little scary – when he decides to show up. N.

  4. I drop a line or two onto a facebook page called ‘To the Tidza verse and beyond’. Explanation…The nick name of my home village is ‘Tidza’ and I occasionally pen some Tidza-centric stuff amongst other poems.Not sure that the cycling poem is on there though.I can upload it to the page,but don’t take it too personally I wouldn’t want to spoil a good morning by stirring up your ire..

    • Ah, don’t worry, Dave. As a cycling, poet, freelance writer and father of a teenage daughter, I’ve had to develop a fairly thick skin..! Been having a look at your work, and there’s some great stuff. Glad to have found you! Nick.

      • Just read your anti-cycling rant and it’s great – so true! – and no offence taken whatsoever. Have to confess I used to be Lycra-d up with the best (or worst) of them myself, but happily I’m way past that now and just trundle round in civvies on a 1930s replica paratrooper’s bike. The whole sport has got out of hand, to be honest; a victim of its own popularity and, dare I say it, it’s increasingly turning into a rich man’s game dominated by exactly the kind of ‘weekend warriors’ you describe so accurately! When I started out 20 years ago, a ‘serious’ bike cost about a grand, but now a bike like Wiggo’s will set you back somewhere north of £10K – and don’t get me started on the price of the clothing (which I haven’t bought in years!) Have to say I’m 100% with you on the ‘born-again’ mob who clog up the roads on Sunday mornings: I generally ride four or five times a week, on my own, and I never see them on weekdays, or any time it’s cold, wet, filthy, dark…I’ve never joined a club, and I actually detest these big organised ‘sportif’ events on the open roads: they’re expensive, elitist, and full of unfit blokes who don’t know how to ride in a bunch, or deal with traffic. ‘All the gear and no idea’ as we say.
        Sadly, a minority of both cyclists and motorists will always behave appallingly, and it’s one of the great tragedies of modern life that relations between the two camps are now so poisoned (fuelled in no small measure by the Daily Mail and Jeremy Clarkson). The irony is that most cyclists are also car-drivers, so a) actually do pay vehicle excise duty; and b) ought to know better when it comes to jumping red lights, riding on pavements, riding three abreast and so on. Trouble is, the antagonism is now so great, I’m not sure how we’ll ever get things right again. Almost every week I’ll come back from a ride and say ‘that’s it, I quit’, but somehow I keep going! Cheers. Nick.

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