Poem ‘The Artist’

The Artist

Black paint on the front door
was peeling badly. Before knocking
I ran a crackling finger over it,
flakes falling into shade around my feet.
A small grey lady in garish pink
dressed for bed, squinted up at me,
something akin to Stravinsky
played in the darkness behind her.
“Take a pew!” – words betraying her age,
her station, a headmistress perhaps,
Arnold’s paintings in primaries all over low,
leaning walls in a room of gloom,
as if yellowed by years of smoke
and smelling of rose and age.
His preference for palette knife
and fingers were evident at once –
then a portrait, blue eyes staring at me,
almost violet, gorgeous like Liz Taylor
and hints of a grey uniform with pips.
Tea and scone arrived on Royal Albert
with shuffles of pink slipper.
“The portrait,” I pointed.
“Oh, that’s me, circa 1944,” she croaked,
standing bent. “But not his usual style.”
“No,” I had to agree, writing frantically,
excitement like sap
sent tingling up my spine.

So, let’s get this right:
She had trained in Ireland,
was deployed to France,
following allied troops into Germany
all the way to the end, in Berlin.
Hers an eccentric family of noble stock,
a quite irregular life lived on the edge.
Did I believe her? At first, yes.
At least until I closed the door
with that peeling paint.
Then I noticed the corner in the road,
breathed in the fresh air,
saw the rush of wind in poplars
and rooks cawing their honest presence.
The further I drove the less I believed.
Narrow roads led into town, a realisation
that still – the artist had eluded me

Poem and image © copyright df barker 2012

21 thoughts on “Poem ‘The Artist’

  1. This is another one of those narratives when I wonder where fiction and memory collide. I kept looking for clues 🙂 This could open up into a much larger story. It captured my imagination. Good work! Debra


  2. Hey David, I’m enjoying these narrative pieces. This one is full of intrigue, but I think my favorite part is the speaker’s reaction after leaving the apartment. The sense that the further he moved from the mystery of the room the less he was able to believe of what he had heard. This could be applied to so much of life- though I do get the sense that this is a dramatized memory.


  3. Hi, thanks very much Emma! Yes, it’s just a story I made up, based partly on a little niche in a road close to where I was brought up. I just imagined an artist (or the widow of an artist) living there all the time without me finding out. Odd, really.


  4. Ah, the ever-elusive genius sought out by indefatigable journalists! Loved the flaking black paint and the elderly housekeeper/mistress?


  5. I love your narrative poetry most of all, David, and this one is brilliant, filled with a quirkiness that makes the narrative, the lady in the pink slippers, and the artist who painted an unusual portrait out of his usual style alive to the reader. What great poetry achieves is often an absence. It builds up a story, or a mood, or an idea, and then it leaves the reader to fill in what is not said, what the poet has said by meaning rather than saying. This absence helps to make this a truly great poem. The narrator did not capture the painter, as he had hoped, but what had he missed? What does the poem mean in its three portraits and its ending? Oh, this is a wonderful poem indeed.


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