His paraclete was a piebald donkey
bequeathed him by a kindly parish priest
whose sins he supped away one Whitsunday
some months in advance of your man’s demise.
“Never a shortage of asses, Argyle.
God knows we’ve all got one of them at least.”
Which seemed the case on closer scrutiny.
Argyle named the wee jack Recompense
and took good orderly direction from it.
Wherever the one went, so went the other
bearing mighty nature’s burdens wordlessly,
the brown sign of the cross across their backs.
The last was ever seen of them was headed west—
a tatterdemalion and his factotum—
making for the coast in the cold and gloaming
braying and flailing out gestures of blessing
over hedgerow and hay-bales, man and beast
alike, hovel and haggard, dung-heap and home,
everything in earshot vindicated,
cats pardoned, dogs absolved, tethered cattle loosed,
and all of vast creation reconciled
in one last spasm of forgiveness.
As for the sin-eater and Recompense:
where the road turned toward the sea, they turned with it.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.