KR OnlinePoetry

Making a Deal

God, it seems, won’t make such a deal,
though it is not always clear why this is.
The devil, though, loiters at railroad tracks,
cutting through the abandoned back streets
of southern towns waiting for a middling
talent to come by. The devil traffics
in souls, but it is an easy sale when
the talent stops to contemplate it: he has
a dollar in his pocket, a thumb length
of whiskey in his flask, and his horn
or guitar or harmonica or fiddle is all
he has that he can put a price on. His
soul is mostly a word somebody told him
about in church or in the Gospel
Home where the soup was a little
salty and thin but always hot, and the bread
was freshly baked and sweet. But he
has never seen his soul, never touched
it, never smelled it, never tasted it, even
though, they say, it is somewhere inside
him. He has to reason that it was never
his to buy or sell in the first place,
anyway, and he can’t tell for sure
if he has one. Now his dick, he can
look at; it grows and shrinks, it fills
his hand, it winks at him, it breathes,
and a lot of women say they can feel it
when it presses in. Now cut that off,
and a man has lost something he knows
he used to have—a piece of him is gone.
But the soul, well, it is like this thing
in him that makes him know when
a sound he makes is right, how he can
feel better than the next person, how
people say You got it like it can be
bought or sold, held up, rubbed up against,
beat down. But it is like the soul
and maybe the two things are the same.
So when the devil, picking his teeth
in the hot sun, boots shining like a new
penny, looks the man in the eyes and says,
Give me your soul and I will give you
talent, more talent than you know what
to do with
, well, somebody is pulling
a fast one, somebody’s getting a better
deal than somebody else—somebody is
a sucker and somebody is not. The man
knows that if he can deal with the devil
like this, then he is going to hell anyway,
so all he’s got is now, and now is big
as the sky, and now is the world of good
times and power. Florsheim shoes and
a tailored suit. The deal is easy: nothing
for nothing and the music is sweet over
the dry-backed southern town. That’s the deal.

Kwame Dawes is the author of numerous books of poetry and other books of fiction, criticism, and essays. His most recent collection, UnHistory, was cowritten with John Kinsella (Peepal Tree Press, 2022). Dawes is a George W. Holmes University Professor of English and the Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner. He teaches in the Pacific University MFA Program and is the series editor of the African Poetry Book Series, director of the African Poetry Book Fund, and Artistic Director of the Calabash International Literary Festival. He is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Dawes is the winner of the prestigious Windham Campbell Prize for Poetry and was a finalist for the 2022 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. In 2022, Dawes was awarded the Order of Distinction, Commander class, by the Government of Jamaica.