To my Mother, the Art Critic
I put it down, I say, to my mother, my first art critic.
Back then, oh, in another country, a woman in her prime
Nicely contained in that dress we know, its modesty protesting
Those The Lady at her piano snaps for the album. But that was Before -
Yes, we've had too many images of After -
That was when, on a Sunday afternoon after church,
Anancyman came to the house and arranged a sitting:
In the drawing-room a detail of her dress is out of place.
No, of course, you do not understand. I come back to this scene
Decades later on a day in Sheffield laid out to be painted.
I pause in mid-stride, the rinsed landscape too clean for February;
The bruised sky of yesterday clearing up, a scent of elsewhere drifting
Indoors, from the garden. I think of men in berets and cravats
At the salon - of a provincial Degas whose aim was to trap you dancing,
Or an island Renoir with no fear and hatred of women;
Of your afterlife drawing suitors to worship at Orsay and Marmottan.
So, yes, I'm thinking back to the small accident in the churchyard
(Sermons do not prepare you for the dangers of uneven ground);
And then to your pampered ankle after lunch, caught on canvas,
Along with the vicar an d the headmaster providing the conversation.
The boy with the made-up name was praised for the likeness
Of the bandage on the lady's foot; he could have been a medic as well
As artist. Not bad, you said, the sternest judge. And then you asked:
But how are you going to paint my other shoe, over it?