in response to the painting by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, from his series The Temptations of Solitude
Chopping wood & carrying water
at the old collieries,
a sudden smug thought popped up:
I should be enlightened
in no time! And just like that,
no-time snagged me
there in front of the tipple,
by the monkey puzzle tree.
The ground buckled as if
from a blast of dynamite.
My ears filled with roaring
from the long-closed pit.
Pride is an itch you can only
ignore for so long until
Old Scratch surfaces again,
naked & ridiculous, like
a malevolent penis with two
blind eyes instead of one.
I dropped to my knees,
sank into the vetch & nettles
while the others went on
with their meditations,
lowering buckets into the well
of the long afternoon.
Only a dog paused to watch
my clawing at the air.
A rash spread above that un-
reclaimed stripmine like the glow
from some legendary sunset
in a land without smog.
OTHER POSTS IN THE SERIES
- The Book of Ystwyth
- The Grave Dug by Beasts
- The Comfort of Angels Attending the Dying
- The Man Who Lived in a Tree
- The Penitent Roasted by the Sun
- The Barbarian Brought Down by a Lioness
- The Celibate Couple Pursued
- The Righteous Man Surprised by the Devil
- The Beating of the Falsely Accused
- “Tempations of Solitude” series now half as solitary
- The Grave Dug by Beasts (videopoem)
- The Grave Dug by Beasts: a new videopoem by Swoon
4 Replies to “The Righteous Man Surprised by the Devil”
This poem made me understand some new things about pride. And I love the smug/smog play. This series is fabulous. Thank you for showing us the Hicks-Jenkins paintings, too. They are terrifying.
Thanks for pointing out the smug/smog parallelism. I had intended a symmetrical structure, but hadn’t noticed that particular echo — how serendipitous! So glad you’re enjoying the series, Sarah. Thanks for the comment.
I like how no-time chooses the space “by the monkey puzzle tree” for its snaring.
Thanks. Of course there was a certain arbitrariness to my choice of species for the arborescent object in the painting, but I swear the identification came first, uninfluenced by literary considerations. In other words, it felt more like a discovery than an invention, which is always where I want to be when writing.