Insomnia caught me, again, and so
I ceiling stared and read about a painter who
Made a portrait of his wife and his mistress, then
Over-painted his wife as if his
Conscience could not
Bear to face the truth.
As my mind wandered to the places where dreams would be
If only I could sleep I pictured the two women of my mind
On the steps of a church where all of me was made.
One was as I remember her, sepia toned, a
Reflection of the way her heritage returned to her skin
As she gave up powder and paint with age, her unstraightened hair
Forming tight, defensive curls around her scalp.
The other, vividly clothed in wildred hair, as if
Painted by Rosetti, is facing her, and my wandering
Sleep starved mind can only imagine the words they’re sharing,
About faith, femininity, the foodbank rota and feelings that I know only from the
Sickbed years listening to women,
Amateur therapists sharing tea and sympathy.
Just like women, even as my mind wandered away from them, they
Persisted, as if it was a natural order that placed them on the steps,
South westerly autumn sunlight picking out their faces.
As ever, I thought they knew exactly where I was, even as
They focussed only on each other, on their differences and their
Joint inheritance. They stood, mother’s hand on lover’s arm, as if to
Restrain and reassure her as I
Explored the gateway to the narrow lane where, on winter nights when
Streetlights failed, I could find short embraces with men who
Listened intently for the squeak of the kissing gate that meant they should
Fumble with flies and prepare to pretend they were always just
Walking towards the village.
Was I always the boy who was left behind?
Not by the two women on the steps, who were still there when I looked again,
Ghostly and real.
Just like women, persistent and listening for the signals that said, to
Anyone in need
We are here.