The Comfort of Angels Attending the Dying

This entry is part 3 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

You always dreamed of a death
in the open, stopping at the wye
in the highway that runs past
the shell of the old mill,
the land like a black lung
infiltrated by bronchial trees.
You’d keep your eyes pinched shut
against whatever brightness might spoil
the immaculate desolation.
After so many tiresome years
of living for others, this would be
your own time at last,
alone on the baked earth.

But it seems the Father won’t let you off
that easy, sends a pair of his goons
to bookend your shoulders
& breathe cabbage in your ears.
Meaty arms wrap around your chest
like pythons & begin to squeeze.
Let’s go for a ride, they whisper.
Death in the open — you’re finding out —
means all bets are off. The air turns
dangerous with blades.

Series Navigation← The Grave Dug by BeastsThe Man Who Lived in a Tree →

10 Replies to “The Comfort of Angels Attending the Dying”

  1. Been a while since I’ve commented, Dave, but don’t take that as an absence of visits, nor of appreciation. I’ve noticed how your poems seem to going from strength to strength, and this one’s exceptional. All that vivid imagery, those marvellous phrases — ‘bronchial trees’, ‘immaculate desolation’, ‘to bookend your shoulders/& breathe cabbage in your ears’ and others — and that great balance between saying enough to let the reader know what’s happening yet leaving one wondering… I read the poem then looked at the painting; yes, I thought, that’s it. Words that complement and don’t compete.

    1. Thanks, Pete. I never have any expectation that regular readers will leave comments — in part because I am often too tired and brain-dead to comment on more than a small fraction of the blogs I read — but I really appreciate hearing how well this poem does what I had hoped it would do. I had a pretty good draft written last night before I went to bed, but the ending didn’t tread any new ground for me, so I wasn’t completely satisfied with it. A second night in a row of scarey dreams gave me the idea (in the shower) for a completely new second half of the poem.

  2. This is beautiful, as usual. Your metaphors always surprise me. They’re unexpected and yet seem organic. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for your generous estimation of my work, Laura. I hesitate to say this too loudly for fear of hexing myself, but I’m hoping to really push myself this month. Other folks are doing NaPoWriMo and writing a new poem a day, and that’s great, but what would be more of a novelty for me is not to post poems until I’m convinced they’re as good as I can get them — without losing that first-draft freshness.

  3. Oh bravo Pohanginapete! You express lucidly what I’ve just spent twenty minutes trying to find words for in an appreciative e-mail to Dave. And the result was, I fear, pretty inadequate. (Maybe this is why Im a painter and not a writer.) I think on another occasion I might ask you for advice!

    1. Be sure to click through to Pete’s blog if you haven’t already. He not only has a way with words, but his skills with the camera are extraordinary.

  4. Being a fan of both Dave’s writing and Clive’s paintings, I’m quite stunned by these inspired poems. Fantastic, Dave, I hope you’re going to do some more, and if it spurs Clive to revisit some of these themes, that’s a great outcome too. just as an aside, how marvelous the web is – I feel so fortunate to have met Marly through you and qarrtsiluni, and Clive through Marly.

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