The Penitent Roasted by the Sun

This entry is part 5 of 12 in the series The Temptations of Solitude

in response to the painting by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, from his series The Temptations of Solitude

For the sin of thirst, surround yourself with mirrors
& wait for baptism.

For the sin of sensitivity, plant yourself among lawn ornaments,
neon-bright & obvious.

For the sin of poverty, expose yourself
to the cauterizing desert of the sky.

Build a stockade between the storm door & the doghouse
to incarcerate the green thieves of light.

You have lived too many years as a parasite,
drunk the high-fructose corn syrup of paradise.

It’s time to tunnel into the brazen day
& shrug off your integument, oh locust.

Under what basket or milk crate have
you hidden your cry?

Series Navigation← The Man Who Lived in a TreeThe Barbarian Brought Down by a Lioness →

10 Comments


  1. This series continues to move and surprise me. The cauterizing desert of the sky. The green thieves of light. thanks.

    Reply

    1. Thanks for reading. This one was really a struggle, and I’m not entirely satisfied with it — but then satisfaction is death to a poet, so that’s O.K. I guess.

      Reply

  2. The 4th couplet here is really perfect!

    I’m reading through the whole series now, but had to comment on this one. I really dig the ending couplet too.

    Reply

    1. Thanks. That fourth stanza was actually the very last one I wrote.

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  3. I love this one: to me, there’s an essentialized (as in essential oil vs. perfume) quality to the language and imagery that makes it very powerful. One thing – I stumbled on drunk the high-fructose corn syrup of paradise, though I didn’t want to: I understand what the line ought to do, and want it to do that, but the language threw me out of the poem, I think because it’s more didactic than the rest? I’m not sure – I like didactic sometimes. Something, though. The poem is so strong.

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    1. Hmm. Interesting reaction. I hadn’t thought of that line as a possible stumbling-block, but maybe I’ll see if I can come up with something better. Thanks.

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  4. Well, as is always true of any feedback: one person’s reaction, grain of salt, FWIW, only relevant if useful to you in revision, etc.. – noticed your saying you’re not entirely satisfied with it, but truly, that line is the only one I’d vote to reconsider for tonal consistency (and I could well be off); it’s a magical poem.

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    1. On re-reading this, I find I like the inversion-rhyme (is that a term?) of parasite/paradise too much to want to mess with that couplet.

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  5. I am proud to say The Penitent Roasted By The Sun hangs on my wall. I can view it from below coming up the stairs, or from above looking over the landing rail, its impact changes with angle. It inspires me, how wonderful that it has inspired this poem, thanks Dave.
    Cauterizng desert of the sky.. brazen day.. oh yes!

    Reply

    1. Hi Kathleen – Thanks for stopping by. You’re very fortunate. It’s the kind of image that’s mysterious but full of enough nitty-gritty details to spawn a thousand interpretations. I can’t imagine a better painting with which to share one’s living space.

      I keep thinking I should take my camera and go visit some of the nearby mountain hollows to try and capture the sorts of yards that Clive drew upon for this paiting. But I’m afraid of getting beaten up. :)

      Reply

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