Eventually I had to leave
the clapboard house
by the river, the river flooding
again, my time running out.
I bussed and hitched,
jumped a freight or two
when I could manage,
but mostly walked, my legs
strengthening at hills, my
bare feet hard as rubber soles.
They did not look at me,
the people on the road,
or was it me that did not look
at them? I had carved my hair
to a shielding bowl,
and even when I spoke
I watched the mirrors,
the faint haze of the horizon.
I do not know how many times
I’ve done this: upped sticks
in the night
felt my way in darkness
down the stairs. I could tell
them many things,
but never this: the thought
that I should turn
and climb again, join
his body in the sheets,
listen to the water lapping
at the green and splintered porch.
At last they had the garden to themselves,
the children gone, their wives and partners,
the one-year-old who cried right through the night
but loved the garden: the shadows that the trees
cast on his face, the strange regularity
of bells chiming hours in the village church.
Now the plastic chairs were stacked beside
sun-loungers, sprung tight, their cushions out,
the dining-table pushed against the wall.
Wine bottles three deep on the windowsill
were settled into sturdy rattan bags;
the terrace swept; sheets folded from the line.
Perhaps, he thinks, a spot of creosote
on the frame where she had tried to train the vine,
and then it must be time to start the woodpile;
but first he’ll help her work the toughest weeds,
their thickset roots, while she remembers,
thirty years ago, how the borders looked.
They had it to themselves, the dripping pond,
the sudden rush of martins from the cliff,
clouded humming hornets in the mountain ash;
the isolated scents, ripe fig and peach,
the river in the valley on the breeze
that seemed to come before the jolt of Angelus.
Ballerina posing for a photograph
her arms curved above her head, her left leg scissored
at the knee, the foot dipped like the point of a pen, a brush.
She looks in pain. She looks like she could topple
at the slightest breath: the plump flare from the camera,
the photographer urging ‘hold it, hold it’.
Though the photographer of course is long gone,
and so is she. The bright sun that glints from high
Parisian windows is now the darkness and lights
of the Tuileries she runs through, late in her heavy shoes,
long having forgotten her morning in front
of the camera, her pose, re-pose: hold it hold it.
And the older man who pictures her still,
perched at his canvas, scheming, next time, to tie up
her plié in wires, to trap her forever, held without movement.
After Degas, 1875