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