Robert Griffith

The Devil in the Milk

 

        St. Columba did not come near but raised his hand and made the
        saving sign of the cross in the air in the direction of the pail. He called
        on God and blessed the vessel, which at once shook violently.

 

The monks are always speaking of the devil,
how he darkens shadows in the well,
turns butter in the churn to brine, or drifts
like smoke through thatch and withy, settling deep
within an aching joint or curling hard
around the heart. And now that fat monk says
my pail's possessed? Possessed! Is soured milk
the only worm they see within this rose?
Sweet Jesus. My father drowned in blood,
his lungs so wracked with froth you'd think the sea
was breaking on his brittle ribs. What sin
had bought his pain? Or what about my son,
stillborn, his mottled face as dark as clouds
before a summer storm? These holy men
just shook their tonsured heads and said, "God's will,"
then walked away. They wave their hands to bless
the living and the dead, their touch as empty
as the air they reave. O god of words,
of pain and fear, the devil take your soul.