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Theory of Evil

Big Harpe, Little Harpe-
you met them on
the Natchez Trace
you'd stare into mystic
evil's face.
Oh wouldn't live
to say you had,
or if you lived
could only gasp
with hurting breath-
Them Harpes-
before delirium and death.

Po' wayfaring
stranger, none
to ease his moans,
Big Harpe slashed
him open, filled
his belly with stones
then left him for
the river to eat.

(We think of that
as we follow the Trace
from Nashville down
to Jackson-muse
on the cussedness
of the human race.)

When Big Harpe's head
had been cut off,
they took and nailed it
to a sycamore tree.
(Buzzards gathered
but would not feed.)
It crooned in its festering,
sighed in its withering-
Almighty God
He fashioned me
for to be a scourge,
the scourge of all humanity.

Written by Robert Hayden (1913-1980)


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