Down came the boy, having rung the bell
and done his duty. Now, he permitted the sting
in his shoulder to bloom into a red sinuous flower:
“Let it hurt. Let yourself feel for once, said the demon.
Because they were alone, boy and demon, no bottle
to cork or stare into beaded depths; everything fractured
spider cracks, in glass and stone, in bone. Fractured
a bone, have you?” The demon’s voice was a rusted bell
tolling against the boy’s heart. The monks were gone, bottled
their last cask of wine: the poison, tasteless, stinging
the backs of their throats and the boy’s memory. Demonic
curiosity and regret, slipped on like a wet stone, flowered
in his adolescent mind—as the full and “dull” prairie flower,
rejected by a town girl, sent him sprawling. The fracture
in his heart was small, but perfect ground to seed demon
thoughts. The girl’s laugh, though, a cruelly clanging bell:
“You’ll only be a monk! Bald! A winemaker!” And how it stung!
Worse than the tears (when he’d been sent away) or the bottle’s
heat in his throat and nose and cheeks. But better to bottle
it up, said his heart, said the monks, said the flower,
crushed until its mangled petals released their stinging
juices, staining his flesh and soul: so they fractured
from each other, but still within the reach of hope. The bell
tower would be salvation, his purpose, said the voice. The demon
was seemingly quiet while his strength was up, the boy’s, demonstrative
vigor and face flushed, while he nipped from reserve bottles
forgotten in the deepest cellar. He found that, like a bell,
their tannins and notes rang pure, angelic speech flowering
on his tongue. So the boy confused divinity with a fractured
view, and took whispered, tolled instruction to sting
back at those who loved him the most. It was tempting—resisting
at first an urge to strike at mass. . . but he couldn’t. The demon
carried on the boy’s back, claws dug deep into his fractured
mind and flesh, shoulder and rope arm swollen, unbottled
and no longer bound to the skeletal pact. The boy’s flower
and his god gone, cracked like a bell
had taken its toll on a fractured mind, his heart stinging,
so that now the sound was a demon’s bellow;
and the old wine, drunk, bottled in Hell for the cost of a flower.
Eric Baron is a writer, editor and mentor in Philadelphia. He attends Temple University’s MFA program and spends his free time at Aikido or with Mighty Writers, where he teaches kids in Philly and thinks aloud about why it’s worth writing.
Editor’s Notes on “Old Wine”: The line in this poem, the sting/in his shoulder to bloom into a red sinuous flower, prompted me to have this poem follow “Death of a flower.” Sestinas, like this one, lend themselves wonderfully to the narrative poem. The complementing image is a collage of old wine bottles (public domain image) and the highly poisonous Jimson weed, also known as Devil’s weed (Datura stramonium, courtesy of The Daily Steeple).