Portrait

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.

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