• Vol. 03
  • Chapter 08
Image by

The Italian Straw Hat

Only on an island would time in its proper beat and measure run to this moment. And I, who was always used to being unnoticed, sitting there, so practiced in the art of self-effacement it has become second nature to me.

But when the moment found me, there I was – under my Italian straw hat with my burnt nose and that hair I’ve so long ago given up on.

And you noticed. You stood for a moment and smiled, then said hello. Did I look startled? It would have been the proper response. And then the strangest thing; I felt my face open, as if it were uncovered for the first time.

All these years and I never knew I was waiting.

1

Pachycephalosaurus

“...(meaning "thick-headed lizard") is a genus of pachycephalosaurid dinosaurs. […] The thick skull domes of Pachycephalosaurus and related genera gave rise to the hypothesis that pachycephalosaurs used their skulls in intra-species combat.” - Wikipedia

Trapped in a corner at a party
I mix my metaphors (because I am
a mixed metaphor) saying: I wear
a number of plates, have numerous hats
in the fire, spin a great many irons. Clad
in crockery, I spin hats on sticks, impale
both plates and hats on hot irons, eat hats
on fire while ironing plates, spinning
Willow Pattern Trilbies in fine china.

What does my skull keep in?
What does a hat keep out?

This could all be due to my unusually
large head, its extended occipital ridge
preventing commitment to most headgear.
So instead I clothe my odd-shaped bonce
in special effects, helmeted in the straw
that grows in my mind. Nesting in it.
The fabric which weaves through
the warp and weft, sulci and gyri,
of this brain I claim to own.

Consider your skull in ceramic.
Consider your hat made of bone.

NB: The ‘sulci’ and ‘gyri’ are the grooves and bumps in the brain.

2

Dream Analysis

What must it be like to live life without a frame: am I awake or asleep when I have this thought? We talk of people being large-framed, so perhaps there is some relationship between the skeleton and the frame, although one is on the inside, the other on the outside, of the picture, at least – a sort of exo-skeleton, perhaps.

How do I know it is a picture? Perhaps, I am fooled by how still she sits – looking out – or perhaps it is in – at the viewer. But here is a gaze to launch a thousand questions. A gaze to support the medieval belief that seeing is a far more active act than we moderns credit it with. Here is a gaze that needs no frame but rather frames you the dreamer, the viewer. A gaze that brings to mind, on the outer reaches of memory, the recollection of my mother's eyes – her most effective disciplinary tool - that she would turn on us misbehaving children. A gaze that frames the moment and freezes Medusa-like.

Why is she in my dreams at all, and what does she wish to say to me? If, according to one mode of dream analysis I, the dreamer, am every object and figure in a dream, how am I her? And here? This person with a nondescript hat perched atop long, lank brown hair, her face turned every so slightly, the better to impale you with the gaze – the eyes so wide, as if you could see the whites all round not just at the sides – the ayes have it and all that. Is that it? Do I need to be more aye and less nay – neigh,neigh neigh! The neighbourhood is going to the dogs. Behind her the merest suggestion of a landscape.



Read more >
3

Still, Life

It is beyond hard to attain the correct flesh tones. The oil masters brought it off, but then the light elsewhere was all wrong. Heavy dark shadows, eclipsing humanity into allegory. Here I reckon I have the light spot on, the cheerless pink-grey of fighter plane undercarriages, impossible to pick out from the clouds when viewed from the ground. Passing over into the fading golden radiance of autumnal foliage. And her hat the liminal border between the two, the inauspicious clouds that proffer renewal, against the blazing glory that will pale and evanesce. The hat gently ushers my artist’s gaze and the painting’s viewer’s gaze from one light extreme to the other with no dazzling. The only glare is hard set upon her face. A skin tone of rebuke. I feel it catalysing my own complexion. Will she in turn prove to be perennial or deciduous within my lifetime?
4

She Wasn’t Pretty

She wasn’t pretty or beautiful,
the first girl I fell in love with.
She was unique
I guess you could say.

Her nose would blush in the cold,
in fact, it would blush when she was embarrassed too.
A mention of sex or alcohol and
her nose would turn crimson.

She kept her neck and chest hidden;
her figure was for her eyes only,
hers and God’s, that is.
I longed to undress her,
not so I could fornicate,
just so I could admire what it was that she kept hidden away.

I wonder if she ever married,
drank or painted her face with makeup?
She wasn’t pretty or beautiful,
I suppose she’s a spinster.

It’s funny now to think I loved someone
who was so conservative
when I was a young girl.

5

Just Because She Comes Back

“It’s not nice to stare, honey.” She takes my arm. “Come lets go… It looks like it’s gonna rain.” My body listlessly follows, but I can’t help looking back.
“Mommy?”
“Yes hun?”
“Is Daddy going to meet us there?” We’re going to our summerhouse. We go every July.
“I told you. He’s not coming anymore.” Her tone has changed. I look back one last time. All I can make out is a familiar spec in the distance.
“Why not mommy?” The clouds darken and some drops fall on my dangling arm. She’s still holding on.
“Shoot. Come on we really have to go!” We quickly climb up the stairs running along the side of our summerhouse. As soon as we get inside, thunder claps- she looks distraught. “We almost got caught.”
I press my face to the window. The cold rain colors my cheek as I breathe white fog on the glass. She unpacks my bathing suits, tanks, crocs, shorts, panties, and back-ups too. I struggle to write in the glass my fathers name. L. c. c. I got my e’s and c’s mixed up again. I haven’t practiced my spelling in a while. We don't have time to anymore. It should say Lee.
“Hun, what are you doing?”
“I’m just looking for that lady…” She reminds me of my father.
“Don’t go near that lady, sweety. She is not a good lady.” She comes over to me and bends down on her knees. “There are some people who don’t treat people nicely.” She kisses me on my cold cheek and walks to the kitchen counter.
“Why? Is she sad about something?” The last time I saw my father he was crying.
Read more >
6

The Appearance

I see my face in unexpected surfaces. Tabletops
in restaurants, that painting you keep
on the far wall. By turns I fall out and in with it.
Reminding me, as it does, of age and my mother.
Surprising me with my own thoughts of love
and recklessness; how often both amount
to nothing. Today it appeared by the field:
the day’s work done, sun resting
before its long descent into night and the fodder
for too quick dreams, forgotten pillow talk.
And I am tired. Tired of vigilance and silence.
Tired of my own damn face that keeps turning up
wanting acknowledgement for nothing greater
than persistence and that stubborn wish to be home.
7

Character Outline

I translate your face to my own desire,
looking for the mistress within your temple,
that lady of line and execution
lying somewhere between the eye
and this dull cut of hair you give no care to.
I see the same dismissal knotted into your clothes,
but what does one need of cloth with those crags
of brow and nose cantilever over
everything you touch? Does the light rush
to your expressions, keen to portray genius?
Black and white suits you more, the summer
defining the extremes you embrace.
8

The Painting of Abigail

Abigail threw the straw hat across the room and itched her head fiercely. “That damn hat is making my scalp itchy! I’m not putting it back on!”

“Here’s a kerchief, wrap it around your hair, then put the hat on. The hat will cover the kerchief, your itching will hopefully stop, and we’ll be good to go,” Mike said with a slight chuckle.

Abigail wrapped her hair in the kerchief and put the hat back on tilting it a little to one side.

“Leave the hat straight, Abigail,” Mike said seriously.

“Whatever you want. Hey, the itching stopped!” Abigail shifted in her seat.

“Stay still,” Mike said, and rolled his eyes.

Abigail and Mike grew up next door to each other and attended the same public schools. As adults they became roommates. Mike had just gotten his first painting gig at a famous museum that Abigail could never remember the name of, and asked her to pose for him. He told her she had a silky complexion, and stunning sky blue eyes. Her long brown hair over her shoulders would give the painting a softer touch he insisted, even though she preferred her hair pinned in a bun.

“Can I take a look?” Abigail asked.

“Give me one more minute. I just need to add some color to the background, and then I’ll be done.”

Abigail sighed.

Several minutes later he turned the painting facing Abigail. Her mouth dropped.

Read more >

9

Carpe Diem

She’d taken time
Taken her grief and pain
Took a trip on a plane
Took in sights
Took photographs
Returned to chilly British summer
Took a seat
For her portrait
Quizzical eyebrow raised
Under the Tuscan hat’s brim
The one she’d bought too late
Tension kept beneath the skin
Behind grey eyes
Under a grey sky
Her mood as grey
As her sweater
Relieved
That for once
She had seized the day
10

Every brushstroke is an idea

The strange thing about ideas is that they do not necessarily happen at the right time, but they are there when their time has come. Just like brushstrokes. Or even a single brushstroke. The funny part is that a brush isn't always smeared with paint.

'What do you mean,' she asked and she isn't an artist.

I said, 'I mean that even you hold your toothbrush or shaving brush in your hands and work towards an idea of an attractive personality, don’t you?’

She gave me a look that was incisive and apparently meant that the intention was to brush my thought off her mind. She laughed. I didn’t have the heart to persist that even laughter was similar to brushing off vibes that cause chasms.

But let me come back to the brushstrokes that matter. Artists have painted and a lot of them have their works being auctioned for millions well after their need for money, power, and fame has ceased to be important. 'Their time has obviously not come' is not so much for the artist as it is for a painting. The artist is a mere medium for the painting… and a painting is a medium for an idea. The idea becomes alive only when it is needed.

She insisted, 'So who decides on the mix of colours? Who decides if it is to be a translucent or a heavily laid stroke? Who decides on a stroke over a stroke?'

Read more >
11

Surrounded by People

Surrounded by people, I sit here alone, hiding in plain sight, hat pulled down as a barrier against the blazing sun. I can feel the heat seeping down to my bones. It feels wonderful. I haven't felt this warm in ages. I haven't bothered with the lotion, I’m still wearing your jumper. The waiter brings my drink over — you know, the one you introduced me to. I take a deep breath and make a silent toast to us.
There's not a cloud in the sky and the beach is filling up quickly. No one looks in my direction. I haven't spoken more than a couple of words to anyone in days. I've become a bystander, watching other people's lives unfold. From the terrace, listening to the myriad of overlapping conversations, I try to work out how many languages I can hear, but you were always so much better at it than me.
There's a young couple canoodling in the shade of an umbrella; I’m reminded of our honeymoon all those years ago. I watch a family laying their towels across the smooth, white sand. They’d better weigh them down, the breeze nearly took your hat. An older couple wander into view. They walk hand in hand towards the clear blue water. I watch them dip their feet in the rippling waves.
A pang of jealousy hits me, tinged with anger. I always thought we'd be like that, you and I. Together forever, that's what you said. But how were we to know what was eating away inside you. You made me promise to go on with my life, not to mourn your passing, but you've left me alone, surrounded by people.
12

Mountain Dew

I fix you with my sadness of hurt to disguise my surprise. More than anything I do not want you to know that I fully believed you. You can imagine me weep later if you must but I will not have you feel the smugness of deceit.

I walked the hills with you and we were a romantic vision of contained risk of togetherness.
I walked the hills with you and drank whisky from your hip.

You sat in my shade and still reddened with thoughts between us.
You walked with me hip by hip.

We came down from the hills with fresh air falling from our mouths.
We came down from together and sat apart.
You ordered whisky although you already had some at your hip.

I felt the metallic taste of your words land on me, burning me with their coldness.

You stumble from my shadow because you think that women do not age as well as whisky but I will not be up at dawn to wash my face in dew. I will already be in different territory walking towards nothing that you will ever know.

13

Jean Esme Cooke: A Self-portrait

Oh Jean, you should’ve known when that crazy, jealous guy, John, locked you up in his room so you couldn’t get away, that you would never be like the doves you loved so much to paint. His insecurity would lead to many abusive words, like angry brush strokes, and his beatings, sadly, were not on canvas. But he would ruin your paintings with his own intentional brush-overs. In one he didn’t get, your eyes come through so clearly. I see it in your irises, that searching for the unknown, the previously unperceived, and I can read it on your quiet lips, too, If your mind is attuned to beauty, you find beauty in everything. Even the unheated mansion in Blackheath never bothered you. Do you think he set the house on fire, choking your paintings with soot before flashing them in flames? After you “ungardened” the fenced-in garden to unearth the hostility your husband left there, your indomitable spirit still bloomed—Everything that happens when I open my eyes [each morning] is a surprise. It's like dying and coming alive again every day—I see that in your eyes, too.

________________________________
Italicized words are Cooke’s quotations

14

Becoming June

Blue-face bristles @ six o'clock,
Six-footer; latitudinous shoulders
Gentle
Giant.
Many condescend support; most
Rubberneck.
Femininity is a state of mind;
A way of being.
I’ve Always Been JUNE. My crescive bones
Reported thus.
Snap a pre-op photo -
Nothing changes because I own a slit;
Looks are cozen.
Some women are natural ‘jockstraps’.
Becoming June; my perennial radio station,
Who used elbow grease
To learn my birth argot?
I never have been Stan the Man -
I don’t know him.
15

You never could see me, could you?

I really don’t want to sit for you today. My eyes are itching and I feel awful but you aren’t listening. I know you have to paint whether the urge is on you or not but couldn’t you paint someone else? You only need a face, you don’t care whose it is. You’ve never painted your mother. You could easily take your easel into the house and paint her (and that’d give me a bit of peace from her endless demands which you so successfully avoid out here in your studio).

'Try not to look so shocked, love,’ you say.
Shocked? You’d be shocked if you lived inside my head, if you heard the noise in here. You’re always so busy painting or thinking about what you’re going to paint or agonising because you’re not painting that you've stopped listening to me.

'Wear this hat,’ you say, plonking a hat I thought I’d thrown out on my head. ‘Remember where we bought it?’ Of course I remember. It was in Bruges in that market that I thought would be full of lovely things but turned out to be full of tat. We couldn’t even find a decent coffee shop (I wanted hot chocolate, I could taste it, they make great hot chocolate) but they keep strict opening (or closing) hours in Bruges and we were too late. At five o’clock for goodness’ sake.

A week later you’ve finished, at least finished enough to tell me I can go. My cold’s cleared up. I look at the painting for the first time. My head’s bursting with the things I’ve decided to do while I’ve been sitting here not looking after you or your mother.

Read more >

16

Personal Progress Log, day 218

It is 218 days since my last 1/8th,
115 days since I left the retreat.
I lost so much time in cells.
In Styal I ceased to exist.
Rehab was hard but it turned me inside out.
I have a new cell, a cell I call my own.
I paint.
I volunteer with the disabled adults.
I look for work.
I have the nag inside.
It says, 'What wouldn't you give for just one more 1/8th?'
I ignore the nag.
I like my self-portrait.
17

Oh no!

She made a very bad job! She's given me an alcoholic's nose,
Roseacae and dirty-stop-out bags under my eyes.

No surprise - she never liked me much - I got higher grades
than her at school, at Uni and the pick of the boys

though you would never credit it from this daub.
My hair looks more like melted chocolate than hair.

I know she paints a good likeness when she chooses to.
She's done the Queen and Dumbledor but just look

at this poor reflection of her lifetime pal - that's what
I thought I was - then forget you ever saw my poppy eyes

my badly plucked eyebrows and my pasty skin. Let me
show you my any one of my Face Book status pics instead.

18

Fifty Years Ago Today

Yes, fifty years ago today
it happened. Quite a story.
He was your favorite uncle
and he liked you a lot too.
You were all torn up.
You were just a kid.
No one wanted to tell you.
You might have been
the one person he liked.

He drove your aunt crazy,
their kids as well.
He hated the rich and
hated the poor and
everyone in between.
Nasty to everyone
except you as a child.

You can’t be that way
when you’re a teller
in a farm town bank.
He wouldn't have
had a job if your
grandfather hadn't
owned the bank.

Read more >

19

Mona Maddelena

Leonardo never made Lisa wear a hat; or maybe she refused. I should have refused. I’m not fond of them: hats; they are more suited to the intrepid.

My husband, Walter, he’s brought me more hats than flowers. I’m known as hat lady in our village – a title that infuriates me and amuses him.

“You have to wear it.” He tells me.
“Paint me without it, just this one time?”
“No.”
“Why not.”
“If I tell you, you might laugh.”
“Walter, you know me, I don’t laugh at much.”
“Hmm, that I do.”
“So, amuse me.”
“When I’m gone, I know you’ll give all your hats away.”
“Walte-"
“No. Let me finish. You’ll give them away and when I look down, I won’t see you in any of the wonderful hats I’ve given you and that will upset me. But, I know you’ll keep my paintings."
“You’re wrong, that doesn’t make me laugh. But it is silly.”
“How so?”
“For one thing, you think you’re going to heaven. Well, I have a different opinion.”
My husband lets out a roar; one that comes from the belly and not the throat.
Read more >

20

Dream

Composite eyes stare out
From beneath spider leg eyebrows,
A web-bound fly woven
Into the chrysalis of café society
Ever watchful of those who pass by,
Of the summer swarm.

You see them, the promenaders,
Larval flesh wriggling in the sun,
Baiting you with their kaleidoscope colours
While your own metamorphosis burns you red
And all you can do is dream
Of butterfly wings.

21

Je Ne Regret Rien

She turned large, surprised eyes upon me.
        'You,' she said.'What on earth are you doing here?'
        'Gervais - he said I should look you up.'
        'The answer's no.'
        ‘You don't know what I'm going to say.'
        'No need. I can guess. The answer's still no.'
        'But, Nicole, it would suit you so well.'
        'Don't be presumptuous.’
I put my hand on hers. ‘I think we know one another well enough, don’t you …for me to tell you that you’d be perfect.'
        'I never take any notice of flattery.'
        ‘I never flatter, Nicole. But there would be compensations, advantages, even. Please think about it - for old time’s sake?’
        ‘I’m not sentimental.’
No. God knows that was true enough.
        'Gervais won't take no for an answer.'
        'Then he should come himself, so I can tell him to his face.'
        'He...he can't.'
        'I didn't think ‘can’t’ was a word that figured in his vocabulary.’
        'He..he's not allowed out of the country.'
        ‘There’s a surprise. So you’re the messenger?’
        ‘It’s not a problem.’
Her eyes trained on my face, I wondered how she managed a look so direct yet guarded at the same time.
        ‘Been a naughty boy again, has he?’
I smiled, shook my head.
Read more >
22

Three worlds

, and tonight's set to rain again...
take in the washing...
put the dinner on and then...

The nods and mms tethering me to you
Fray and spin me off centre.
The spare eye rests politely on you

While

mine chases my mind sideways,
Escapes into Narnia, the Shire, Elidor.
Faery lands forlorn, the widening gyre, a stately pleasure dome.

Watchfulness of dragons
Silence of wrecked battlefields
Agony of theologians.

But

Always, too soon, the falling down to myself
Shoved under with a flicked fingertip, a bruising look from the voices within

twisting through homicide and days on the beach
work emails, memory of apples, aching side
others' glances glancing off my crumbling shield

While

The space between us grows tangible, opaque.
The fog greys my sight
My gaze, askew, mirrors my dislocation.

23

Stemming the Flood

She did not want her portrait painted but the man insisted, dragging her by the hand and positioning her in the garden. She wasn't sure whose garden she was sitting in; she was certain it wasn't his, the artist's, it was far too well kept, unlike his clothes which were mismatched and asymmetrical as though he was only part of a whole. She looked around, half expecting the owners to come bounding outside, demanding to know who the hell she was and did the artist think their garden was an art studio? Her hands fluttered like two trapped butterflies in her lap, her heart blooming too large for her chest.
‘I have to go,’ she said and stood up. The artist tilted his head to one side, studying her, weighing her up. He saw a shred of guilt in her eyes, razor fine, invisible to the amateur eye.
'No, you don't,' he said.
Their eyes met and the weight she felt in her chest lessened slightly, her muscles relaxing as though a warm hand manipulated her heart. She sat back down, adjusted her hat, smoothed out her skirt, and looked at the artist with eyes the size of moons.
She was not beautiful, this woman, nor conventionally pretty, but she was handsome, striking, the same way a statue is striking. The artist saw her in the street, walking along, her eyes fixed on the ground as though she didn't trust her feet to take her to where she needed to be. The artist stopped, turned, and drank in this unassuming woman, a woman whose inner voice demanded to be heard.
There was sadness in her eyes, thousands of unshed tears waiting to be ejected. She looked at him now, and he saw boldness, defiance, a hint of heartache reflected back. He decided not to pry, that was not his job; he was meant to paint, to capture the spirit of this strangely handsome woman, to show her his interpretation, to see her reaction, the light inside her eyes as she recognised herself. That was his job.
Read more >
24

Fifty Years Ago Today

Yes, fifty years ago today
it happened. Quite a story.
He was your favorite uncle
and he liked you a lot too.
You were all torn up.
You were just a kid.
No one wanted to tell you.
You might have been
the one person he liked.

He drove your aunt crazy,
their kids as well.
He hated the rich and
hated the poor and
everyone in between.
Nasty to everyone
except you as a child.

You can’t be that way
when you’re a teller
in a farm town bank.
He wouldn't have
had a job if your
grandfather hadn't
owned the bank.

Read more >

25

Unfurl, almost

Spill, serenades into tangerine
Awaken, blinks with pigments

Goad, favourites under shades
Tame, soul's tawny splinters

Unwrap, needs from reflex
Tiptoe, story-mystery seams

Cross, euphemism, safer distance,
Cure, reticence of confinement

Despite, palette, sweat, gadflies
Touch, almost; Unfurl, almost;

Wish, what it seemed
Gift, vocabulary to waiting

26

Looking back

There I am,
Caught on the edge of the page between paste and canvass.
Printed down.
Sketched.
This morning I put on
Comfortable clothes,
A hat for shade,
And looked out over
The beautiful view.
I am not reflecting,
Or lamenting,
Or feeling self-conscious.
I am looking back,
Trying to figure you out.
27

Happiness without Love

Gabriella congratulated herself for the bold step she had taken—her life was going to be a new beginning. Convinced that guilt, anger and the belittling remorse will now fade away, she regaled at the idea of staying in the countryside where sunflowers grew in abundance and the clear blue sky made you want to spread your arms in the air. She never imagined that against the backdrop of this idyllic scene she will walk with a man who belonged to her. But the minute details picked up by the artist, eager to paint portraits on the balcony of the villa, did not leave behind the seething and wallowing grimness mirrored by her eyes. When the chance came to grab what could give her the reason to escape the mundane existence, Gabriella did not let the finer emotions of loyalty get in the way. But soon afterwards her soul became tainted with dark spots. On the wedding day a dark brooding cloud sat on her heart and yet she was convinced her smiles radiated love and joy.
28

Innocence Lost

Tell me, what has it all been for?
I stand here, another year, in silent tears, yearning for what once I held so dear.
Was it for the quarrelling of inbred false prophets that I now endure a lifetime of mourning, never again to share a bright blue morning.

I sometimes wish that I too was sent to smell the poppies. I would have lay down beside my boys, held them close as they closed their eyes.

29

Sniff

Having a long nose ought to be a benefit.
It should mean more olfactory sensors
and, ergo, a heightened sense of smell.
And smell, as we all know, is the sense
most keenly connected to our memory.

If I close my eyes, my languid eyes, and sniff
I go back - retreating to my childhood
and a back yard with jasmine and hibiscus.
The sun: a pedant crossing the sky,
and me - in a straw hat and summer dress
waiting for my cousins and their dog Jess.

Nowadays the sun hurries on its way,
shadows race across the yard and I wear
a warm sweater as I sit, wait and sniff.

30

Barbara

Barbara knew you, but you didn't know Barbara. She fixed her eyes on you. They were recognizable. She was a teacher, or else a nurse. Or maybe a combination. It was hard to say.
        "Isle of Wight," she said.
        "I'm sorry?"
        You pictured the shape of the island -- a kind of squashed diamond. The island always made you think of cows.         "You rented a cottage there for three summers. I lived up the road in a converted barn."
        "I don't think I've ever-"
        "It was years ago, mind."
        She seemed reticent about something. You couldn't remove yourself from her stare. Her sharp, grey eyes followed every one of your movements, as if they held the key to some riddle.
        "You've mistaken me for someone else."
        She smiled. Then nodded. She arched her eyebrows and pursed her lips just a little. She was wearing a black polo neck shirt, unsuited for the weather.
        "That's what they all say," she said, putting on her hat, and looking at you one last time.
31

Veils

It has been round about fifteen years.
I met you with a tiny passport photo in your hand.
"Look she is three."
Assumptions.
Margins.
Words that didn't fit, about the precious one
left in that country you loved, called home.
Sugar.
Sugar cube.
"No, it isn't like that."
You talked about changing your mind.
"I used to have a moustache"
You talked about being on this side of the argument and then on the other.
Disillusionment.
Puzzlement for me being a woman.
The history of your country.
Time...
We continued to talk. Sometimes on the same side of the argument.
I was more puzzled about her now.
More assumptions.
"Women back home are strong."
Sugar cube.
Sugar.
And then the change.
She raised her height.
She held up her direct gaze.
Read more >
32

Careful What You Wish For!

Empty Nest Syndrome? I never thought I'd experience that, not with an errant husband and two warring children who conspired to make my life hell. But here I am, going through my daughter's things with tears in my eyes and a sad heart and she left only two days ago.

The image that evoked these emotions is a picture Alice painted when she was five years old; I remember that was our first holiday abroad as a family and I should have been excited; but instead, I was suffering from heat exhaustion and over-worked looking after the children while Jim relaxed the whole time and did very little to help. I remember showing that picture to him and his initial reaction was to burst out laughing.
"She's got a real talent, hasn't she?"
"Do you think so?"
"Absolutely. That woman in the picture is a mirror image; long miserable face, pasty skin, red nose; bulbous eyes; lank and lifeless hair; she's got you down to a tee, love."
Tears drop onto the picture now as they did then and I remember feeling hurt, upset and embarrassed at Jim's harsh words; and it didn't help when the children took his side and began laughing hysterically at my expense. It's funny, but I wished at that precise moment that Jim and the children didn't exist, that they were not part of me and I thought to myself I'd be happier if that were true; but I couldn't have imagined, thirteen years later, I'd feel what I do now: lonely, empty, bored and desperate for company. With Jim at his new wife's apartment and the children gone away to college it appears I've got what I momentarily wished for all those years ago; and of course I have to get on with my life, move on, but there is a niggling feeling in the back of my mind and it's something my mother told me - or rather warned me - when I was young: be careful what you wish for because you might just get it.

33

The Cartographer

The unexpected landscape of a face -
eyebrows, Pythagorean, two lonely peaks
viewed from a far distance; the angry creep
of magma on Mt. Nose, blackbird perched at its tip;
the stout peninsula to the island of Ear...

(When did I become so hard, so much stone?
So much silica and ash and shingle?)

The rud of my cheek, a nun at prayer;
a hare stops a beat in a loam-black field
and cocks a velvet ear at my chin;
my mouth, the loom of familiar hills
across the firth, and a curragh riding
the rough swell of a shadow sea; eyelids,
storm-bound, new weather system moving in,
my right, a question mark, almost
a misunderstanding, the thought snared
in the diligence of your mapping.

And far to the North, beyond the flat
brim of the known world: there be dragons.

34

The hat

I seem to recognize you
( ... have I seen you before?)

Is it the way you look
back at the painter - do I wish
I was looked at so intently?

If I've known you
I'd have asked you:
"Can I borrow your hat?"
And perhaps with that I could have
some of your vigour -

and the eyes take over
the portrait like a sunset.

35

Lagoons

Sagged cheeks. It’s easy to recognise an artist standing by the railings of a lagoon. The water is a cold stride of the moon’s night walk, glowing like a crown of fish scales against a glazing mirth of unknown behind a tangible water-dust. Overgrowth. The years quickly scale the hills of incompleteness. Body sucks into bone. Eyelashes come off their cheap glue. Teeth divorce the gums. The smallest of bodies encompass the widest of oceans. Dreams. A make belief yacht bespangles the sky with fireworks. Too many stars held against their will finally explode, falling to become invisible icebergs on lightless water. Straw hats. The wonder isn’t lost, irrespective of dissonance. The eyes have uncoordinated from scenery. Vastness perimetered. Bodies subside into elegant lagoons.
36

nudes with poppies, revisited

an ad post for art class - nude models wanted for figure and gesture practice drawing - fifty dollars an hour. a naturalist, closeted, excited. posing to flaunt or immortalize curves and muffin tops? preoccupations with nuances between inspiration and thievery. what is the purpose of pivot points? locations of crossing. virginia woolf had an affinity for vanessa bell - full blooded sibling or half? what is relation but prescription of genetic obsessions. as nessa experimented with geometric abstractions on oil on canvas, virginia mirrored woolgathering in her narrative plots. convinced that she will never be good enough, but now, more famous. vegetation of negatives dictates facial features or perhaps the lack of emotions. self-portraits are not quite as satisfying as being captured in amateur pencil sketches. the self is too generous or not enough. lead swirls and swerves. a prominent nose in pastel is still overbearing. a straw hat to distract receding hairlines. nudists are cloth-less - to summon articles, only to present their absence. eyes lilt to the lighthouse, to bloomsbury gatherings. to view self as tessellations, descending, breast bare.
37

A bowler or a bonnet

Mrs Hyde had never taken drugs in her life, not even an aspirin. She had met Jekyll at the neighbour's party the day before and discussed the merits of hat wearing or not! A bowler, a boater or a bonnet? She said. No further proof was needed I could only stare at the evidence in front of me, noting the arched comma of an eyebrow and THAT hat. A bowler or a bonnet. Or what?
38

Homecoming

You look like Rip Van Winkle but fresh after
hibernation or sleep.
What is worrying you?
Children and family?
But you look fresh as a blooming
flower after that long sleep
Do you remember how it all happened?
how they duped you, or drugged you
into somnolence?
Everything has changed hasn't it?
That is- your befuddled face says.

But you have come back at last
to us, to this world, a global village.

39

The Stranger

Standing tall
without excuse or apology
under that ridiculous
small straw hat
between the plain
dull parentheses
of your long straight hair
your eyes astonish
your stare a challenge
fixing me in place
unable to dismiss you
to turn away
to continue as if
I hadn’t seen your dare
your insistence
I recognize you
one more bright
singularity
reshaping all the space
we share
40

Tickety-boo

It contained only
a folded note
a few words, not even a letter
to say what we felt
and with an outward breath
I tried let go of that feeling
and to only make room inside myself for those words
I never laugh or cry
but I’m ok
I’m fine
41

As I see it

I own your eyebrow
the one that looked lost.
I named it, it rises to my touch.

Put on this hat, walk close
behind me, lower your head so
the drape of hair hangs deep.

When I tire of my eyebrow,
which I will, I intend to leave right
away and you will be left

as others see you
without my eyebrow.

42

The Woman Who Kept the Sea Under her Hat

Her mind is soothed by its own rocking motion,
the constancy of shushing tide. She says nothing,

although at night she might cry a whale song,
emit the click of dolphin in echolocation.

She keeps it all inside, under her hat, so no-one
knows her memory is bleached coral,

or that so many different species of grief
have beached themselves inside her,

their bodies bloating into empty speech bubbles.
It's been so long since she forgot her own story,

she can't even remember the name for this vast
body of mystery she carries, or the boats

that bring strangers safely back to shore
when they've lost their oars, drifted too far.

Underneath her hat is a whole blue universe,
deep as meaning where people have been lost forever.

She uses their stiff little limbs as hat pins. Her eyes
are made of their grey skins, her smile - calm water.

43

She knew

She knew. Oh boy she knew. It was there, in the eyes. They looked as if they saw all over me one hundred different sins and faults that deserved judgement and opinion, dripping off me like wet paint. The room reeked with her hatred and lust for making me know it. But I wasn’t at complete fault. There’s more than one accomplice in any fault or bad act and it was true in the act that I had done or ‘co-done’, if you will.

It was a Sunday afternoon, a warm and pleasant one. You know, the type that’s followed by a moderately active Saturday and required so you can do very little before the following week commenced. There was a slight breeze outside and the leaves were just beginning to fall now their display of orange and yellow had come to an end and the formidable bareness awaited to display a different emotion. There was a text from a friend to come and meet for a coffee. I ordered my espresso and sat down, placing the miniature mug on a quirky coffee mat that had some sort of uplifting message on it in old looking font. It wasn’t until I took my first sip that I noticed her gaze and without speaking a word, a novel passed our gaze as if it had been written in eternity. I looked back with no expression and winked before returning to my coffee. She didn’t stop looking, however and the coffee ran out. So, instead of burning I left, feeling her sticky look on my shoulders as I left the door, never to see her again.

Just look at those eyes. Tell me what you think. Do you reckon my action was so awful or simply a misinterpretation of what’s not quite socially acceptable. Either way, she kept her mouth shut and spared me a torment of questions.

44

The Elephant Sitting In The Room

Gossip...
Under the old glass Orangery room,
Ladies having a cup
Of the finest Chinese tea,
Wearing red shaded lipsticks,
Smudged across their pink,
Powdered faces...
Tattooing the edges
Of the hand painted porcelains.
While their white bleached teeth are biting
Their sharp bleeding tongues,
They hide underneath.

The elephant is sitting in the room...

Along the long marbled corridors,
Doors open and close,
As the newcomer slowly walks by...
The crystal chandelier hanging above,
Silently watches their deceits and skims.
Whispers ecoing bitchery,
Fade against the Portuguese tiles
Decorating the lonely sumptuous Palace's walls.

"The pearls that adorn her neck are not rare enough...
The buckles of her shoes do not shine enough...
The image in her mirror does not reflect our 'noble' upbringing...
She has no right to be here!"
They whisper behind each other's burning ears.

Read more >

45

BEYOND WILDE

A cross between a young Jose Ferrer
and the guy from Pilot (pop group) –
both born to a later era –
he affected a pose
which somehow carried a fusion
of irritation and curiosity;
the old city providing
an intense background
which had to be toned
to obfuscation
so as not to overpower
the subject.

Less than accomplished
with the way material folded,
and uninterested
in anatomical anomalies
the artist layered precision
and depth onto the face.

Few have ever seen
the original Dorian Gray.

46

Sea Fishing

Before Breakfast, Mr Zope struggles with what he calls the 'Peet-pees'. He stands at the window like an exclamation mark. His hair is boxy too. He watches two magpies tormenting a neighbour's cat and wishes they would go further/stop. His wife sits behind him chewing her nails, wondering where the summer has gone.

After breakfast, he decides to turn their sitting room into the flight deck of the USS Enterprise.
You can be Uhura, he says to his wife and she smiles. It's the most sensible thing he's said in months.

Before lunch, Mr Zope has his breakdown. He gives up his job and invests all his money in a battered Luton van. I'm going to steal houseplants and sell them to your friends, he tells his wife. She grimaces: due to her husband's behaviour, she has no friends.

After lunch, he decides to take up sea fishing. He will buy specialist rods from ebay and watch specialist programs he finds buried in the TV listings.
You can drive the boat, he says, and knowing he can't swim, his wife agrees.

Before dinner, Mr Zope stands outside the toilet door waiting for the klaxon. Curled in agony by the time it sounds, he makes the bowl seconds before his bowel spasms and jettisons 72 hours’ worth of matter. I washed my hands, he tells his wife but she knows he's lying and is glad she played with his food.

After dinner, Mr Zope gets the wobbly legs and his wife agrees that he should dance. He no longer bothers with music, since once he's worked up, nothing can be heard above the sounds of his knees and elbows. I'm going to enter a contest he tells his wife between breaths. Nodding, she gets up slowy, turns of the light and leaves him spinning there in the darkness.

47

PORTRAIT SNAP

The portrait had been placed prominently in the well on an adjustable tripod easel which had seen better days.

Steph could make out splodges of Cadmium, Prussian, Persian and Titanium – a geography and periodic table of pigments – on the legs and the cross-member.

She even fancied she could smell the linseed and turpentine as she passed on the way to the Witness Stand.

The memory-laden aroma stayed with her now as she sat beside the assistant, admiring the theatricality of her lawyer as he sculpted evidence and logic to his own devices: dredging up old sins of the victim, and old wounds of Steph herself.

She began to feel sorry for the person she was described as being.

Steph stared at a cuticle and scratched at a spot of cyan blue which had somehow escaped the administrations of her nail brush and the sharp eyes of the prison guards.

She didn’t like the way the judge looked at her She imagined painting him.

Caught in that scenario, she barely noticed her lawyer retaking his place beside her.

The prosecution walked out into the middle of the court, shaking his head and sporting a wry smile.

Court attendants brought out a collapsible table with an assortment of brushes and palette knives.

Read more >

48

Green

I had imagined it would be a reclusive moment. The precise moment when I would put down the brush, stand back a bit, rub my nose to beat the slowly seeping pain of past movement, and finally, finally, expect to feel satisfaction.
If I hadn't started to put the brush across an already rejected canvas atleast twenty one hours ago, I would've crashed on my makeshift bed.
But that was not to happen.
I was standing in front of a portrait, somehow impressed upon it an expression of what could pass for a cry of help and wondered if I had caught my fury onto the battle I had been waging for the past twenty one hours. Well, twenty one hours and 16 minutes to be exact.
I twiddle the brush, I break the thought that is now astride on my brain and find the cause for the browns, the greys and the forced tangerine. I look and realise that I had accidentally added a dash of Rudolph to my nose. I smirk now. I had been missing Christmas. More, I had been missing school, which is my only memory of Christmas. I was having a joke with myself and I now laugh out- solemnly bypassing the pity lacing it. I've grown up, I'm thinking. My eyes are still grey, I choose to wear the uniform-like clothes, I add a little tangerine to remind myself that the contrast brings out the dull.. and my tap my brain with the realization of my non-acceptance.
My fury was a mere tantrum, I grin.
I've grown up to this grey mixture of black and white and I childishly now add the green.
Because I can.
49

Starless

I am a background in my own world
My mousy hair
To become the rough hay
In which common field mice frolic
Far happier than I shall ever be

I am ruddy and reticent
Muddied
In the mundane of my surroundings
I wait with eyes that peer but do not pierce
Lips pursed but not patient
Mind plain but not peaceful

I tip my hat’s hem
At a tree silhouettic in the shadows
Of another life
Undefined
And undetermined

50

White with two

I have maintained from day one that I will not succumb to their idea of fitting in. He always told me how beautiful I was, how my voice was a charm, how he knew just from one look how much I meant to him and he to me.
I will not stray and I will be faithful.
Understandably it has been thirty years now, but I am his. He didn't want me to change and I will not.
I will not change.
We will collaborate in time, with a longing that even death can not end.
I am so tired, I need help, but I will not change.

51

Again

at a first sight
you seemed the same
I blinked and again
you seemed the same

I got away
one of this days
and my gaze lost you

when I was back
I looked at you
and you seemed different

because of time past
because of experiences
because of all that things silenced

so I looked at you
again and
again
and again

and at every blink I made
you appeared different
from that first sight

52

Broken

We had always dreamt of our perfect holiday, a perfect break
You had always dreamt of our kids, beaming with familiar smiles

Broken dreams and nights without sleep
When your funny mole we had named like parents
Took away our hopes and then your hair
And then your smile

Your final days in final pain which
Wigs and hats could not conceal
Spent in the sun that never felt so cold
As your flickering flame
Whispered goodnight one final time

53

A heavy liaison

A heavy liaison on a humid June day is not the ideal, for many there is only the real, the ‘reach and touch’ the material. Few now truly think outside the box, those aspirations have gone, perhaps ended with the Apollo mission.

Fondness says farewell for a while, a ‘Like’ is all we have now, no fragrant letters with doodles adorned. The humidity, crushing, a curse; provoking memories of summers long ago, a storm blast or two.

June sits heavy on our minds like a school report unopened, so much anticipation yet despair. Clouds hang in a foreboding style and everything is very silent. All still for the moment, no clichés required.

54

Self-Sculptress

I prefer to think of you as ‘Girl in Hat Contemplating’.
I dare not linger on the eyes piercing the fourth wall,
to tell me they wish they were blue as a sun bearing sky
inking the whole earth below it, signing its name on the lips
which beckon me close to whisper “I wish I were fuller, majestic”
before I feel the air around me been taken as long breath is drawn
into the nose in the hope breathing-holding-letting go, will erode
extra membrane, bone and tendon, leaving something willow-like.
Sad self-sculptress hiding under hat and black baggy jumper
gazing at self in mirror; that is the terror I see in myself when I shelve                                                              time, look at you, really look at you.
55

Memories of happiness

Today I was tired to be at home, it was a sunny day and despite to the cold breeze I enjoyed my daily walk near the ocean. I love to hear the sound of the breaking waves and breathe the mist into my heart. The sun rays were strong on my pale skin. I felt the burn on my nose, I forgot to wear the sunscreen. I am glad I was wearing my vintage hat, the one you gave me long ago during our vacation on the French Coast. So many memories are kepted year after year, painfully twisted in each straw of this simple hat. I will never forget the look you had when you gave your hat to me, you wanted me to have it and insisted when I refused. You wanted to protect my pale fragile skin, you said I needed. The happiness in your heart was shining deep into your eyes like the will to share it with me forever.
Today in this sunny day I find myself seat here alone and empty. What really happened? I never knew. At times, my mind just travel throughout the broken branches of my life. I find myself thinking and wandering like in this moment, that I am tired and seat here alone in between people. I am turning the pages of a book never fully written and I still don't know where the happiness of our days went. My thoughts are dark like the yarn of the sweater I am wearing I feel warm on the outside but inside my heart is very cold. I remember the day I found your note on the table, only few iced words "I need to go" that changed my life forever. What really happened, I never knew until at this moment, when I am staring at you.
56

Peaceful Storm Within

Peaceful storm within
Hush, hush, hush!
Peaceful storm within the doors
Locked and knocked and closed
By an invalid apparition of faith
Colorblind yet red
Like bedsheets in display with honor-stains
Shut, shut, shut
The doors of time
And feel
The peaceful storm within.

Iago is awake...
Smiles and threats
Blinks and beats
Oh Lucifer!
Let God be free
From the grasp of sceptics and politicians
And let Faustus live
Let Milton's but blind
Cry in the prisons of law
Psalms and heroic couplets in un-free verse
The Tree of Knowledge
Leave it forbidden!
You talk of evidence?
Evidence?
Read more >

57

The Artist

Two souls brought together to make a piece of art. The artist and her the artist model. The artist is the soul seeker, seeking perfection to be captured. capturing every line on the face , every curve of the eye, and color in her face. Her face ; The model is like the painting, a painting given to us by God. we are all on God's canvas. They say that we are all made from God's image, and that image can only be captured by artists. We are all artists looking on to a canvas, but these two souls in this moment is what captures God's image.
58

His Platonic Mistress

We could discuss it for hours, whatever it is,
and never come to an agreement.

You would always be the same,
unreasonable, unyielding,
transcendent over right or wrong--
and what would it matter?
It is not as thought you were alive.

Yes, death has its advantages.
Is Death not one with Art?

I could never say this when you were living,
but now we can end it.
I can turn my back and walk away,
and you will always be there.

59

Questions without answers

Is it a self-portrait?
Is she Jean Cooke?
The painter looking at self?
Self looking at creator?
A still-life…animated?
Or, a mere image imagined
By a creative?

A character glimpsed somewhere but
Resurrected later?

So many questions.
No answers.
The eyes that come alive
Probing the soul of the viewer
The orbs that record every
Falling atom
The hat that frames listless hair
Combined together and you have got---
A cultural signifier.

The visage captured in the canvas
About to say something somber
A certain formidable air
Carried by a slim figure.

Read more >

60

In the same boat

It wasn’t the right kind of hat,
She didn’t have the right kind of face,
Her nose had already turned red and she hadn’t even had a sip of the Pimm’s fruit cup she’d been give,
The charity shop dress was the right length, but that was its only redeeming feature,
It only just scraped by as ‘fit for purpose’.

In fact she was even less ‘fit for purpose’,
Unlike the men in their navy blazers, spotless white jackets and jaunty boaters,
They fitted image of business people who were invited because of their status in the business hierarchy,
Whereas she was the token worker from a lower order,
Quite simply nothing more than a glorified secretary,
Selected at random by computer,
She was unable to refuse the outing.

It was already hot and stifling in the hospitality tent,
She decided to escape from the smorgasbord of faces she only recognised as names on her computer screen.

Outside was a world filled with young rowers, energy, determination and excitement.

Read more >

61

Every day in summer it’s my job they come every year with money get down there with your art OK Mammy

Standing there with a camera at the seagulls not answering my question whoa wheyoh now he's turn back but wait the the absolute cheek the lip the absolute bosoms on him so they how pollute like trucks the absolute rolling lolling flabber eating animals thousands already: Hey hey you do you know you have organs?
      He doesn't hear me though I'm closer than shouting needs but: That can't breathe speak but through gas skin like oh my arse ..?
      He steps off closer to the sun like he's king of where I'm born his haircut I do a mirror he seems used to this closer ... easy ... my sexy jumper give him the smile the swish the works feeling the frame quieter now: Wiped all just torn away oh pulled apart through tonnes of chewing grease beast arteries whose children your size sin loathing tween two buns like the final murder most flesh god help us your mouth that makes you now dotey doughy docile for jump fencing a sunset sweet and terrified, animal?
      He stares with a twist step back I came here on a plane hat: Hey guy, you sweet-jesusing me?
      Guy?! My sexy jumper my but: Doesn't it all now want you everyone to eat you who tastes of cream choux chicken and fun?
      Give him the eyes the works but he steps back: Oh no no be careful you're close too the edge of our Cliffs of MoherLodge born there!
      I'm closer your smell coming into my mouth your aura I touch your wrist you shriek it back take a bite from my cheek but really I say: Do you want to buy my portrait?
62

Bird Whisperer

They must have decided I was worth knowing to befriend me, when I took time out from my busy schedule to help them gather worms.
Mistrustful at first, they kept their distance. So as not to startle them I wore the same outfit every time I visited them. My aim to become so familiar, they would come to understand I posed no threat.

Secretly I hoped they would welcome me into the flock. I was desperate to show them the wings I kept hidden. Keeping a secret is hard so with time forgot I had wings, until the birds came to remind me. My longing to share with them was great so I began to leave a trail of feathers in my wake.

I became a masterful magician conjuring nesting material, which they gratefully took. Soon they were eating out of my hand; plucking my feathers. They found them hiding underneath my jumper.

Gradually curiosity got the better of them. One by one they slipped inside my hat, made a nest in which to rear their young. I supply them with the softest feathers. In return they stay, regularly preening neglected feathers.

I relax my face muscles, happy the birds know my secret. My scorn turns to serenity and sometimes my face registers surprise; that birds live under my hat, nestled in my hair.

63

The Stare

In the middle of a rush hour street flowing
through my head,

I was caught by a silver hook

of a plain mirror

For the first time ever
I saw 
the woman with a man’s face

and the man jabbing at her angular face contours

trying to escape



I couldn’t move

My eyes widened more than the street

and its traffic tumbled in

Honking vehicles swept in, tall towers fell on bent knees

and collapsed headfirst into their depths 



“Don’t cut your hair,” An old woman appears through a crease

“I won’t”, A boy runs his fingers through his hair, my hair


Those eyes

wonderfully wide

are now boats

My mother rows past me, her brown hair trails
among the lily blooms



Read more >

64

THE LETTER

It's relaxing, sitting here, unnoticed by people drifting by.
      Pierre advised me that he required a serious model. He was bored with flirty girls and arrogant males. He needed character.
      Now is my reflective time. I refuse to feel guilty. This is my afternoon off. Faith and Francis are with their mother, Cecile.
      Events have taken an inevitable turn. Monsieur Jules is a rat. Not a love rat, he's too narcissistic to fall in love. I suppose it must have been Cecile's money he craved. Has played eager young things on many vacations. I can think of four assignations since my employment began. He suspected that I connected those absences with his affairs, but thought that a few Judas coins would stay me from informing his wife. Probably reasoned that the au pair/nanny would be so grateful for a job (and interesting holidays) that she would keep her counsel and knowledge
to herself.
      How could he know this plain Jane yearned and simultaneously despised him? I hinted at blackmail after the 4th seedy affair.
      'You stupid girl, just do the job you are paid for!' he snarled at me. 'let's have no more talk of informing Cecile. For one thing you will return to your old drab apartment and your old drab life. Also my children will blame you for splitting the family. You will regret ever opening that spiteful mouth!'
      I made my decision. Have written the letter denouncing him. The previous foolish yearning has been overtaken by my despising him. Cecile, a lady of ladylike rituals, will ensure the children are having their afternoon nap and pour herself a glass of wine. She will notice the letter beneath the dish of petit beurre biscuits...
      The painting is finished. Pierre smiles and our eyes meet. Jules is denounced and I am to live with Pierre in the artists' quarters. Maybe one day the picture of me shall be displayed in a gallery.
65

Loose Ends

Are you waiting
for the brush and
the paint, after hangover
or are you unhappy
at things beyond control
or are you simply staging
theatricality, delivering
a silent monolgue
in time's wilderness
cut off frame, in bewilderment
asking to be despised?
You have forgotten me,
the self and your history
of playing the impresario.
Yet you are now still at the centre
with loose ends hanging
in limbo.
66

Watercolor

I think the sky turns orange before black. That's how it is here. I think "here" is the Mississippi. Or maybe it's Kenya. Or maybe New Zealand. It doesn't really matter, does it?

That's where you say "no."

Most people think it's important to know where you live. That's what you're trained to know from when you're a child. Phone numbers and street names. I say fuck that. Push it all from your mind.

You don't need to memorize text books either, so there's no point trying.

The water is blue. It's not really. Brown and green is the color my little purple boat floats on.

The trees are green. But they aren't. They're yellow.

My eyes are purple. Behind the contacts they're grey.

The sky had turned orange. And pink. And red. And everything in between. And then it was black. Or maybe a really, really dark blue.

I've memorized colors instead of mathematical equations and addresses so that I can repaint the greys of the world to my liking.

67

Sunny Side

You said you were tired of this life. This constant back and forth motion, like a pendulum. Of dew soaked mornings, and stormy afternoons, and pitch-black nights. So I held you close one last time, and reached to the bedstand for your hat.
"The sun is harsh out there."
She nodded. But she said nothing.
"Let me know when you want to come back."
But I know she isn't coming back. I can see it in her eyes, tear-soaked, that she will keep driving down the Amalfi coast, away from the crooked streets of our stormy village, away from the incessant tourists, to the sunny side of this place. If she can find it.
68

Separation

There is no acknowledgment
in her eyes
that she sees me in this room
across the years
since the two of us
went our separate ways
she and I
as we were quantum particles
in the very same place at once
as if I were really there.

She stares at a point in time
through her eyes and mine
knowing what can't be said
sensing what can't be known
that she and I
will always be apart
even in this crowded room.

69

hats for me are deliberate…

hats for me are deliberate
must be chosen to suit the occasion
weather - be place on the head

not put - a straw hat with a green band
has pretensions or is not yours
when worn with dark clothes

buttoned up to the neck suggests
a woman who is conflicted
has changed horses for another discourse

and the choice should not be questioned -
the burnt nose is not alcohol
it is due to not taking advice

new to a hot climate its downside
unobserved until now - so the hat
is borrowed - its pretence

wants to be on a head that punts
or watches cricket in a relaxed way
quietly avid yet revealing nothing

though your eyes ask a question
make a point and want to know
if we knew each other before this moment

70

The Beauty of Stoicism

What made me stoic?
My image is the scapegoat
of man's hate for himself.
I understand the greatest need
of the human spirit is to be understood,
To be heard, seen, and loved
is at the forefront of the human condition.
All throughout my life I've heard incessant
discontented intolerant babble
from the mouths of ignorant men.
I can sense thought, emotion, energies.
The conflict, the voices, the hesitations,
My inner workings are sacred
like the psychic gifts of the Lemurians,
But who can understand the richness
of my invisible world?
Who can understand Stoicism?

When I was young I was taught
to obey and submit to my elders,
To speak when only spoken to,
I stood with tied tongue.
A product of environment.

Read more >

71

Colour me Black and Gray

You're surprised,
Caught unguarded.
The flashbulb of my brush stroke
Captures the pause in the midst of living
And you become my muse;
My lady, unseen or my man, unknown?

I ponder on my pen strokes.
An attempt to capture your lank hair
Wrapped around that featureless hat,
Lost in the background of oranges and dirty yellows.

I counter with a witty line
Of beauty in the eyes
Or your drunken red nose.
I testify to your arched eyebrows
And paint the mockery out.
No twitching smile or oily grin.
The color overcomes you.
Victorian dark and grays soothes you.

I finish the painting
With a verse of worth:
Beauty was in a crayon sketch
When my wobbly pen painted a picture in ink.

72

Who are you?

"Who are you?" ask the enquiring eyes
Raised eyebrow suggests suspicion
This is my home, my land, my country

The sun beating down, weighing heavy on our shoulders

Our land, once green and bountiful now scorched with fire
We shall not be cowed, crushed or conquered
This is the face of defiance

73

Portrait of Jean Cooke

Each morning, waking from death
to the surprise of an orange streaked sky,
she draws in life - paints behind her eyes
the striking plainness of a dark wood chair
blushing red in a glance of sun,
the tangled bed, her tousled hair
in the mirror's gaze - abstract angles
for the stroke of her brush.

She reaches beyond her eyes for her palette,
dips her brush in the new light,
glazing over his derision, striking out
his shadow to paint her loves,
an ungardened flush of blossom,
a tracery of moonlit trees, her children,
the swift crucifixion of doves.

74

Lost Causes

‘Love, it’s a bit too early to crack open the red, don’t you think?’

Frances gave me a look I wanted to file under ‘incredulous contempt’ in my personal encyclopaedia. She opened to red and finished it within the hour, despite my pleas to slow down.

I’m glad I sketched her expression then. I’m glad I finished the painting in time for the funeral.

It goes up in the living room, right behind the bottles Frances’ sister is lining up.

‘You can’t have a wake without booze,’ she insists.

I ought to argue but the fight has died with Frances.

75

Octopus

The octopus is back on the bed. Each night it strikes. This octopus tentacle tight about my ankle, pulling me under. My eyes are wide in the darkness, good God I long for the Sun. Another day gone and nothing done. I push the back of my head into the pillow as far as it can go. I’ve missed my chance to be a sexy centrefold. I counter: “I’m not so old! It’s only middle age!” Such a pathetic defence. Such a pathetic denial of the eternal conspiring of Time and Opinion. My arms splashing about. There is no outcrop to cling to out here for me. Middle age is out, far out in the open sea.

We’re living longer than ever before. This new mantra was never intoned in my youth. In all media this honey is poured, common experience ignored. How must it be when so close to the shore to hear We’re living longer than ever before? My eyes are wide in the darkness. I think of the ages of fallen loved ones. Sixty-seven, Fifty-seven, Forty-Nine and Six.

Each night the octopus tightens around me and I feel about my face. How loose it has become. My face, my mask, no longer fit to conceal the truth: I am a skull. I feel caught up with, I’ve almost been outrun. Another day gone and nothing done.

Sunshine quietens the starkness of the darkness. In shedding light it contradicts the night and I’m content once more that life is long and we’re living longer, much longer than ever before. It’s a hobby I need, something to do, something to occupy my time. Maybe something to do with wine. By day I clean and wash and dust the house. Where does all this dirt come from? The day drapes across me until bedtime when I hit the hay, wishing for my own portrait of Dorian Gray.

Read more >

76

Mr. Hankston

He wore a beige hat
With green lace around the brim.
He had HUGE moon eyes,
Light-seeking eyes, that pulled
You in deep.
His wife left him for
A woman called Polly.
Polly wore high heels with
Short skirts and Tight shirts,
But, Polly was Mr. Hankston's
Favorite daydream.
And, since this was the case,
Polly was okay for his wife,
He approved.

Mr. Hankston stared squarely
At nothing almost daily,
That was his job--
Professional starer.
How someone lands a job
Like this, I do not know.
No one knew.
But, he sat there day after day
Staring at nothing.
Making nothing move
With those HUGE moon eyes,
Those light-seeking eyes of his.

Read more >

77

Writer

I wrote a book
About a man
Who loved a girl
And killed a man
Who loved the girl
Who killed a man
Who loved a girl
Yet loved a girl
Who killed a man
It has been read
By men and girls
With men and girls
I love and kill
78

Learning to live again

Haunted by her fear of rejection Sophie forced herself to take a holiday. She hoped meeting new people would boost her confidence.
She donned her favourite hat and casual clothes and headed off to the picturesque Yorkshire countryside. A messy divorce had completely destroyed her self esteem. She vowed never to get involved again and was getting used to her own company.
She had become very sinister and didn't trust anyone. She was almost in danger of becoming a complete recluse. In need of a hobby she started painting just to fill her life with something. She thought she was rubbish but a few arty colleagues thought she was talented. Sophie was convinced they were being kind.
Then everything changed, she met Jeremy a fellow artist. He painted her portrait. She still couldn't bring herself to smile or relax. Perhaps in time she would. If she could forget her past and allow herself to live.
79

Lines

                            Stare.

                          Dead centre.

                      Until curiosity twitches…

…and your eyes saccade across the blotched surface of my nose, curve the clean lines of my brow, come to a full stop at the stark exclamation of my eyes.

                             Stare.

                          Consider.

               Skim read your way down my lines.

See the subtle sag and smudge of years. How single strands – days, weeks, months; lives, remembered and forgotten – frizz and tangle, knot, to disperse into split ends. The compressed glow of days, when light lived in these lines. Sunrise, a confusion of orange. Midday – sun centred – lines sharp. Now watch the last light of sunset, my last lines.

                             Stare.

Read more >

80

Bad Date

It’s the eyes that got you. Crystal blue and as sharp as a hawks own. She wasn’t the nicest woman to have even a rudimentary pint with in the roughest public house both sides of the Humber Estuary.

You went to the toilet after your third vodka and genuinely considered fleeing through the window and head to the nearest ferry port and get a ticket to Reykjavik.

But you were brought up to be a gentleman not a flea covered scumbag, so head back into the bar area and see her dancing with your ex-wife’s divorce lawyer.

So you’re free.

81

women in portrait

You suggest I go high maintenance
Pluck and shave and exfoliate
Trim and shape and detoxify
So I can get on in life
Even at my age

You express concern
At my uneven skin tones
The delicate baggage under my eyes
Suggest a more flattering hair style
Something along the lines of an urchin cut

How often did I smile?
Did I arrange my dress to blend in?
Or was it a substitute for a religious habit
The neckline was dire you said
Aged me beyond whatever my real age was

You did compliment on my still poise
The lack of mobility in my stare
Even when the cock crowed incredibly loudly at twenty past two
I just think of cold places
Wait for the paint to dry

82

Posterity’s Price

Jag
‘That’s enough for today,’ my dear husband says, snatching the brush from my hand.
‘The kids’ll want feeding, and I need the studio to work on my piece for that competition.’
It’s not a studio, it’s our back bedroom, and you’re not going to win but I might, I want to say, but I don’t. ‘I could paint in the garden?’ I try instead.
He just shakes his head, sticking my brushes into jam jars of turpentine, stripping off the art and leaving function. ‘But I haven’t finished,’ I try make my voice coaxing, ‘you know how it is, love, I can see the painting already there on the canvass and I need to let it out to breathe before it suffocates and fades away.’
‘I said no, and that’s the only answer you’re going to get. You have things to do; go make lunch before your kids get home from school.’
‘My kids? I seem to remember you had something to do with it, climbing on top and putting them inside me.’
The air fills with the sting of paint remover and glass as he shatters it against the wall. ‘You always push me! Push, push, push! It’s like you want me to break!’ And, face crumbling into rage he looks at me like he hates me.
Sometimes I think I hate him too.
And I should stop, I should… but my own rage surges up to face his, and I want to spit and claw like a cat. ‘You just blame me for all the shit you fail at! You can’t stand it that I’m more in demand than you are!’
A backhand to my face and I double over, shock hitting me like ice. Game, set, match, I know it’s over as I clasp at my nose and hold back the flood of crimson, sinking into silence.
Read more >
83

Wondering of how watching ignites

Glare into what guides
    this moment’s flame for
capturing our watching. The
                hat that
    leans, the learning we
gaze in: to. These eyes and
    the ovals always contin-
                ue. Clarity
is what exterior is, is
    what breathes
toward the hand’s
                focus... we
    see into shape and spell in
    kaleidoscopic syllables—
     this is the miracle

   

of hand and the body’s
        motivated explanation

84

What They See

Did you know how they would see me? The day you picked up your brush, smeared paint across the canvas, let the harsh drag of the bristles bring forth form and shadow and life? I’m not pretty. You didn’t make me pretty. But you gave me something—a certain je ne sais quoi, I would say, if I was French or sophisticated, and thankfully I’m neither. The toad-eyed stare which turns startled, knowing, then smirking finally, as if I reward the viewer with more of myself for looking longer. The incongruous hat, pink and green like a girl’s Easter bonnet, too small and silly for my head, which soon fades away into the background like the inconsequence it is. The shapeless, colorless sack of a dress, carefully chosen to advertise just how much I don’t care anymore. The lobe of an ear, fleshy and shriveled like the paradox that is a dried mushroom. The hair, long and trailing and glinting in the light, coarse whenever I don’t take it in hand and give it a hundred strokes before bed, the rough silk of it caressing my skin like a lover. The arched, sparse brows, like a pitiful imitation of Marilyn Monroe or Bette Davis—signs, they sneer, of an aging woman longing to recover the glamor of her youth. Not that I’ve ever been glamorous. Just look at my nose—large, arrogant, red. I’m proud of that nose. It dominates my face, parades its existence, and that has a beauty to it all in itself. Then there’s the hanging pouch of my cheeks, the babyish delicacy of my chin, the absurd loveliness of my lips, prim and sensuous at once, full of secrets that wouldn’t you just like to know. You make it look as if I’ve lived that most elusive of things, a life, full of adventure and banality, full of the thrashing forever-green of the sea and the yielding crack of apple-skin beneath teeth. I’m a goddess. I’m a crone. I’m a woman you could meet any day on the street. Maybe that’s what fascinates them the most, this universality and this specificity of me. Maybe that’s what they see.
85

Charade Of Protest

This is a portrait he has done
caught you unguarded
when you confounded
stared at nothingness
and a picture was painted
brushes and colour
coloration of your vanity
portrait by the artist
coloration of being incarcerated
in a room of sanity.
What behemoth?
what storm?
what passion?
Stamp your feet
to get out of claustrophobic zones
tell the artist, impressionist or otherwise
yours is simply a charade of protest.
86

Pud

I look like her.
I even have her sunburned nose,
Except now
My bridge is freckled
Bathed in dappled light
And illness allows a river to flow

I wish I had a straw hat so that my head would not have become scabbed

We really do look similar
Both white
Gelatinous
Angry
An angry milk pudding
My nose is the cherry on top

87

White Trash

“What the hell are you looking at?”

“I know my nose is still red from the shindig yesterday afternoon. We drank some pile of beer. I have a hangover the size of Christmas and I am looking forward to finding out whose muddy rubber boots are under my bed and why my pillow smells like liquor and cat piss.”

“Stop staring at me, would ya.”

“I have to stop getting so drunk but every time those Gallant boys come over we are at it again. Polishing off a two-four and a bottle of Crown Royal...and I always end up in bed with one of them.”

Good God look at the bags under my eyes. I better go feed the cat and get hydrated before the boys drop by for happy hour.

88

The Woman in the Hat

The woman in the hat
is a song of herself,
a Whitmanian triumph:
Coiling the room around her gaze,
she stops to listen
to the fragile exhale of wind
that tips the afternoon on its side
and pours the remaining light —
evenly at first,
then in splotchy, arhythmic bursts —
onto a sparsely planted, earthen canvas,
almost too dark to see now
but for the dim, moody glow
of domestic life.
89

AUDACIOUS “SHE!”

“There it is!”
She marked and moved.

Her face was wrinkled.
Twenty springs back,
I saw her for the first time.
The whirling wind was euphonic,
it made my way to hers.
The imprints of her watery legs,
were still on the threshold.

They warned
“She is a witch!”
My mind forbade me,
and the wind swept me back.
She was there!
On the edge.
I peered into her wet eyes,
and thought they had gone insane.

“How can she be something like that...?”
I thought as I crawled back from flashback.
The beautiful rain,
had cursed the village.
The carcasses of animals,
both social and natural,
Were floating hither and yon.
Read more >

90

For Jean Cooke

No red vibrant enough to feel the rush of blood through your veins
nor any yellow that could make your spine shake.
A shade of brown never moved anyone to art or song,
but just a touch of heat on the nose and cheeks so we might know
she’s allowed herself out into the world with only a nod to the blasted sun--
the hat is plain enough and not worn in a way
that might cause talk among the neighbors.
Instead she offers us greens and greys
that might have been washed and put through a wringer.
And she is not much for trees, and who would
when eyes might serve to speak for trees, and even time and space.

Leonardo walked the streets of Milano and Firenze
and observed the cool fires of the street revels
and priests who would look to the sky and thus make light of the heavens.
But he knew well the wear that the centuries were bound to make.
Color, he told a woman-friend with enigmatic smile,
with whom he might have shared a dalliance,
is worth so much less compared to eyes
that can see through the wall they’re painted on.

91

Considering Myself

Self goes through me, studiously
        and I am character, unassailable age, and local colour.
            I am an interesting fact.
               Obliquely, I offset my backgrounds.

I assert my right to belong inside a frame
        while blaming it for its narrow considerations
                such as an expectation of beauty.

        I will not stray into pseudonym.
Nor are wallflowers necessarily coy.
        All flowers are walls, and faces flowers too,
                and selves will not be surmounted.

A brim of shadow is a partial veil,
        and what’s not covered counters my discretions,
            a red to temper vanity.

       (I give nothing freely, which is not
that I give nothing).

My mother said only childless women
paint themselves.

I make no claims to propagation
here: this is an endpoint,
or a threshold.
This is only a picture,
steeped in hues
which will compost readily.
It is texture:
a dissonance of complementary colours.

92

Still Shot

I see the sorrow in your eyes
bleeding melted pastel
you are the canvass of my nightmare visions

You are the haunted huntress
always in sadness
a captured frame that won’t evolve

I taste the sickness as you worry
spoiled colors cancel
you are wasted innocence that drains in waves

You are the fatalistic flood
ever an illusion
a broken moment that can’t be saved

93

Giving up the gaze

I can’t look at you
        because of what could have been.

I can’t not look at you
        because of what could have been.

I used to look at you
        because of what could have been.

I won’t look at you
        because of what could have been.

I won’t forget looking at you
        because of what could have been.

I’ll give up my gaze
        because of what could have been.

I won’t forget you
        because of what could have been.

94

Don’t I Know You?

There is always one, in any assembly. Perhaps right there in front of you on entering. Perhaps shadowed away in an alcove, or quiet beside some showier gorgeousness. But it will be there, distilled through the alchemy of pine and canvas and coloured dusts – that one face that catches you somewhere below vision, that tugs at the heart like a caught breath.
A splinter of incarnation, a whisper from the flatlands between paint and canvas, foot and shadow. A life in two dimensions, Then and Now.
I stand in the Here, and marvel.
95

Life, Still

They painted me into stillness
Coded into cadmium,
Crystalized into context
A stage in space-time sublimed into a
Stalemate of
Singular expression;
A stern sadness
Exchanged for
Tokens of endurance.
I liked this act of meditation
Mediating all the slight movements of my head and hands
Animated by the spine of stacked thoughts;
Tracked in transit
With the sweep of a brush.

We met up often
(In the age of precision
Derision of the act of artifice)
To feel the slick bleed of paint between thumbs and fingers,
Its lingering kiss on corpuscles –
Grasping the goose-bumped surface of canvas
That could still time, the twitch of muscles
Or emphasise the exuberance of existence
And how we yearned never to lose touch
With this art;
Our shared secret of stored energy
Where we
Encoded love letters from a lost age.

96

Who She Was

When we went down to the sea, Nanny would always say ‘Put your hat on, my friend in Egypt died from sunstroke.’

I, defiant as I was, would find ways to hang back behind her as she plodded down the little path that led to the beach. I would shake my head back and forward and accidentally on purpose the hat would fly off. As the too hot sun beat down on me, the burn would start on my nose and my head would feel light but I wouldn’t relent and put the hat back on until she turned around.

I never asked her why she was in Egypt.

She wore the same hat every summer, saying ‘Perfectly good hat, this one, got it off a man in the souk when I was in Tunisia.’

I, greedy and vain, would have a new hat every year. I would skip along the scorching tarmac that ran between the beach and the shops demanding a lilo or a beach ball or a bucket and spade. I was transported by the smell of the sugar spun into clouds of candyfloss and she would dig into her old battered bag and hand over the pennies so I could have my hearts desire.

I never asked her why she was in Tunisia.

When we went to sleep, I would complain that the bed was lumpy and that the picture on the wall was looking at me. She would say, ‘Now don’t be a silly, I had to sleep in a tent on my when I was in Lebanon.’

Read more >

97