Unfinished Portrait of Cezanne

Unfinished Portrait of Cezanne

Cezanne painted portraits,
not just fruit on a table,
hills, green and yellow,
trees, light from a window.
There he is on canvas,
a young man with a moustache.
Now see him older,
sat with bowler hat and beard.
Nowadays people take selfies,
but his work needed no camera.
He learned from the masters,
studied them in galleries,
took a carriage down to the river,
conversed on art and literature
with his friend, Emile Zola.
He painted his relations,
friends and strangers.
See the woman in the red dress,
his son as a child.
His wife, Madame Cezanne,
he tried to mirror,
over and over.
Each one of her portraits
unlike any other.
His brush strokes were tender,
as when he attempted to capture
the essence of apples, wood and flowers.
Obediently, she posed for him.
She lived with him in Paris.
She left him to his work.
He worked alone for hours.
Look, there is his father,
secure in his wealth,
sat on a chair,
keeping an eye on politics and business,
reading a newspaper,
lying on his lap,
stretched out by his hands.
He ate well, he wrote,
in his last letters,
but could not bear the heat of summer,
from noon to early evening,
it was too hot to paint,
and when the sky was grey and cloudy,
there was no light,
then nature seemed ugly.
He did not pine to be younger,
but wished he was stronger.
He knew like any other
one day he must surrender
to the shadow that stood in the doorway,
waited in the corner.
His final portrait,
he meant to complete it later.
His studio silent,
he was not there
to lift his palette,
hold his brushes,
to finish his impression.
His spirit speaks in his letters,
his works on canvas,
he left behind him.
His name here forever,
his signature on the stream
that flows over wood and paper.

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War Wheels

War Wheels

They all died in the war.
Those that survived it still died inside.
They stared ahead of them.
They knew now how low humans can go.
When the war was over, those that came back
helped rebuild the cities the other side had bombed,
almost obliterated.
How it could have been if the war had not happened,
that was for the speculation of the historians.
They who came back from the war
were not those who went away.
They were changed, aware of lost light.
No longer chained to the iron wheels of war,
they were abandoned, left to fend for themselves,
ruled by the cold majesty of peace.

Wild Garden

Wild Garden

Leave part of your garden wild,
maybe that rough patch
behind the potting shed, if you have one,
or that stretch in the shadow of the back wall,
for the sake of bees, butterflies,
slugs, snails, caterpillars, ladybirds, moths,
dragonflies and other winged and crawling creatures,
to preserve insect species, save green nature,
he read in his newspaper. Seemed a good idea.
Yes, he mowed the lawn, clipped the hedge,
but he did not uproot the dandelion or the buttercup,
weeds as they were to keen gardeners,
wild flowers to him, fair to his eye as the hyacinth,
lupin, fuchsia or rose.
Warm afternoons, spring or summer,
sat in his wild garden, he imagined how it would be
to paint it in greens, whites, browns, yellows, reds, oranges and blues
on canvas or pencil it on paper.
In winter his garden looked hollow and sad as any other garden.
The sight of a bee in summer seemed a victory,
justifying his plan to leave his garden wild.
Let nature take its course, they say.
It could also be said, let nature have its garden.
Repelled by the very words, weedkiller, insecticide,
he let so called weeds flourish, insects thrive.
Before they were driven out from Eden,
did not Adam and Eve live in a garden
that was not tamed but wild?
Is not that the paradise to which we wish to return?
Green fingered gardeners want to keep the garden tame,
be its mistress or master.
In the same way, some see a mountain as a height to conquer.
Trowel, spade, rake, secateurs may sleep in the shed with cobweb and dust,
but at least he used the lawnmower, the hedge clipper,
fed the birds with bird seed, helped preserve the original garden.

Sniggery Wood

Sniggery Wood

Sniggery Wood is not much of a wood but I always liked its name. To snigger means to half suppress a secret laugh. That suggests to snigger is to feel superior to the one who is sniggered at. Sniggery is not in the dictionary. If it was, maybe it would define sniggery as being in a state to snigger. I searched for sniggery on line. I found the word snig. A snig is a word for a small eel I read. On another site, I found that snig is a word for a grass snake. That makes sense, I thought. A grass snake looks like a small eel, one that lives on land and not in the sea. Flowery means abounding in flowers, so sniggery could mean crawling with snigs, more commonly known as grass snakes. Slippery, slimy, words associated with snakes, add to them, sniggery. Sniggery Wood could mean a wood crawling with grass snakes. Someone named it so sometime. Maybe a farmer or a land owner who knew there were snigs in the area. If you have not seen one before, a grass snake looks like a small eel. I can imagine walking through the wood to be suddenly startled by a snig on the path, a grass snake soon to slither away, not to be seen again. It is all right, the fright will soon pass.
No, Sniggery Wood is not much of a wood. It is just a long, narrow strip of stunted trees, twisting up, too close together, roots hid in tangles of bramble and nettle, that divides one flat crop field from another. Planted on, ploughed, harvested, and left to fallow through the seasons, the fields show signs of tractor wheel work. Crows and seagulls swoop low to nab worms, unearthed, exposed in the furrows to be eyed by winged scavengers. Slug slimed stone sat on by a newt, watching insects flit, skim stagnant surface of the mud brown water of the reed hidden ditch that runs along the west edge of Sniggery Wood and splits through the north fields.
I remember the secondary school cross country run for secondary school boys, sweating in shorts, vests and pumps. We ran as fast as we could, to get it over with. We thudded and clanked over the bridge of wooden planks that spanned the foul smelling ditch at the south gate of Sniggery Wood. I had a stitch in my right side, a sore throat, stiff, dry leg bones, blisters on the soles of my feet. My brain sagged in my head like a dust bag. The event seemed like a punishment, even to those who were thin, athletic. Round Wood Wall we ran, along the hard pavement that bordered the roads, until in the school changing room, we finished.
Further back, I remember the picnic we had in Sniggery Wood. Must have been summer. That means in the stuffy wood, there may have been moths, butterflies, bird song, unknown to us, possibly a snig in the grass. In my memory glass, I see me, my mother, my sister, and from next door, Mrs Cook, her son and daughter, and their rough coated small white dog, Louie. Maybe we did carry a picnic basket into the wood. Egg sandwiches, tomato and lettuce sandwiches, pork pies, we ate, maybe, swigs of pop, as we called lemonade, we drank. It is what happened after the picnic I remember most.
We strolled up the dirt track in the bright air, away from Sniggery Wood, on our way to the small village of stone cottages called Little Crosby with its Saint Mary church. I lagged behind. The others strolled on. I stopped, looked south, watched a moth fluttering on the edge of a crop field. Whatever it was the farmer grew in the field, wheat, barley or rye, I did not know. I just liked the way the long yellow stalks swayed and rustled in the low breeze. I did not want to follow the others. I wanted to walk in the field of stalks that were taller than me, and smelt better than bread and flowers. So I stepped forward, off the dirt track. My right foot failed to find hard grassy ground, only air, and I fell, down, into the stink and mud of a ditch I was blind to, that ran between the south edge of the dirt track and the crop field, for the summer growth of reeds and grasses kept it hid.
I squelched and struggled in the stinking mud that was up to my chin, my hands had nothing to grip on. The side of the ditch was steep and slimy.
“This is it,” said a low, cold voice, hardly there, thin as the reeds. I expected to die in the ditch. Help, I cried, more than once. They will never hear me, I thought, too far ahead. But the dog did. Louie barked above me. The hand of my mother lifted me up. Caked in mud and ditch slime, I could not speak. I stared all the way home, my brain blank. Amazed I still lived.
No, Sniggery Wood is not much of a wood but it was all we had, nearby. It is a gate to some memories. It is not far, a short walk away, but I have no wish to go back there.
“Enter these enchanted woods, ye who dare.”
I liked the line. It made me pause, smile. The rest of the poem and the poet who wrote it is shed from my memory. The line made me feel sad, too. I knew those woods could only be found and entered in fiction, a tale or a ballad, or in a dream, not in what is called the real world. Even in a forest of fine trees, there are no magical beings or mythical beasts to be met, no goblins, dwarves, elves, wizards or fairy folk. Certainly there is no enchantment in Sniggery Wood. I once imagined a tramp in a long black coat slept in a ditch near Sniggery Wood, and an old woman who lived in a white cottage not far from its miserable borders was a witch. With other children, I ran, scared by her front garden gate. The children we were are gone now. Sniggery Wood remains, will stay where it is. Its only threat is a snig in the grass.

The Scream

The Scream

( Lines on the life and works of Edvard Munch, born 12th December 1863, died 23rd January 1944 )

Your sick sister.
The doctor left her.
Tuberculosis, his diagnosis.
You knew, however.
It wrenched from you your mother
when you were younger.
Stiff on her chair
with her dropped head.
World to ignore her.
Your sick sister,
her irises red,
her head heavy on the pillow.
Hectic lines on the walls.
Daylight too bright, had to curtain the window.
What else could you do
but work with your tools,
the craft of the painter?
Her face strokes of pale white on the canvas,
her clothes black smudges.
The room bare, no life could be lived there.
The death of your mother,
your sister, your father,
the death of your own life
that waited ahead.
Your study of dancers,
both living and dead.
You painted the skull headed phantom,
its mouth torn wide open,
hands too thin to give its ears shelter,
tortured by the scream
that cut through the cold bones,
the dried veins of nature.

The Duchess of Alba

The Duchess of Alba

That’s how they were then.
They’ll never be that way again.
These portraits on the walls.
They were real people.
The Duchess of Alba by Goya.
She was real.
She is gone but her portrait remains.
We cannot get back there.
Locked in our time, as she was locked in her time,
we are ruled by the pendulum.
But we can be still.
Attend to now.
Forget our life and time.
Consider the brush work on canvas,
colour, shadow, light and line.
European aristocrats.
Think of them.
When not posing for portraits
by painters like Goya, what did they do?
It seems they hunted, rode, travelled,
had children, wore jewels, entertained,
followed fashion, feared revolution,
looked after their estates.
Painters and poets have this in common,
thought Goya, when they study nature,
they seek for its essence.
In those who posed for him,
he sought for the lamp lit within,
that animated character,
sculptured spirit and skin,
and if he found none,
that must be captured, too,
the void must be faced.

World Mask

World Mask

World mask carved itself,
layer by layer,
revealed one constant,
a dual nature,
half harper, half harlequin,
half holy one, half demon,
half shark, half dolphin,
half maiden, half dragon,
half ram, half lion,
half Abel, half Cain,
half Moses, half Pharaoh,
half Messiah, half Caesar,
half judge, half hangman,
half emperor, half hermit,
half kingfisher, half vulture,
half swan, half crocodile.
No tools, no engines, no blasts
could remove the mask.
The revealed face cannot be imagined.
No one could conjure its name.