The George Crabbe Memorial Poetry Competition
2012 Crabbe Memorial Competition – First Prize
Adjudicator: Kenneth Steven
On mild, peach-dew mornings Christina slipped out
early to collect blossoms from the garden
and roam the nearby fields, powder pink dress
running over the spring of her ribs, dipping,
slipping round the cool weight of her legs.
She’d seen the artist striding over
the rippling meadow grass, and being
an offer-tea sort of person, invited him
into the parlour. Soon she and brother Alvaro
lent him a sunlit outhouse as a studio.
He admired the way she got around, rejecting
the bump and sag of a wheelchair.
Wanted to paint her, and soon enough
she felt the steady press of his eyes on her back,
heard the hiss of his pencil as he captured
the tough heels of her hands pulling her along.
She didn’t mind that he gave her his wife’s
curves and swatch of hair – a sooty horse’s tail
ripe as a glut of plums – for she was all pulley and rope,
tendon tugging under tight skin. But he got some things
wrong, didn’t he? Those fields were threaded
with emerald as well as rust. That barn
stood way closer to the house. And the house wasn’t
as lonesome as he painted it. At first she puzzled
at the lack of larks and bees, too, then figured
you can’t fill a painting with song. Later,
thinking it over, she saw in that yearning twist
of the spine, the gaze up the bare hill, the artist’s
pull towards his childhood home – a New York nest
furnished by the inks and brushes of his father,
where the sickly boy was kept from school. That idyll
was rubbed out in the accident that killed his father
on the railway tracks in 1945. For all his open smiles
the artist had his sorrows, didn’t he? And back then
the country was still dotted with boys broken
by the war. She’s seen plenty of them hereabouts,
quiet as ants or breaking out in swipes of rage.
Perhpas he was catching their longings, too.
So she forgave him all he missed: the scent of crushed grass,
cuckoo spit on quiffs of seed, the clean breath of the ocean.
Let the artist have his world. She had hers.
Copyright © Caroline Gilfillan 2012
The picture can be seen here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Christinasworld.jpg