The Righteous Man Surprised by the Devil

This entry is part 8 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

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.

Series Navigation← The Celibate Couple PursuedThe Beating of the Falsely Accused →

4 Replies to “The Righteous Man Surprised by the Devil”

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

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