I spent a few days with my mother in London last weekend. The Sunday was lovely and sunny and I decided to walk through Brixton, and Herne Hill, to Dulwich Picture Gallery to see the Ravilious exhibition. I wanted to tell you about it but a poem emerged instead. So, a poem it will have to be.
The Shape of Things
On my way to the gallery,
I walk a broad sunny road
With square red pitched roofs
And dormer windows
Rectangular gardens sown with sticks of copper beech
flowers galore, daffodils,
pink and white cherry blossom along the street,
gravel drives with perfect round pots
a lovely row of curvaceous lamp posts
an old railway bridge.
The scene is set in a sepia blue sky,
Painted with planes and slashed
with trailing lines of white jet cloud.
Arriving, hot and tired, I buy my ticket
but there is a wait.
I sit at the café, outside at a table
a lone shape in the stretch of the day
my ear cupped to catch the words of the well dressed women,
and well to do men.
Out of the blue of the sky,
from the green of the grass,
the yellow of the sun,
I hear a voice
“I have been watching you for a while.”
I shade my eyes, my hand peaked
He stands, a handsome grey silhouette
I am flattered.
He and his sister ask to sit down
I gaily wave my hand.
They order coffee. He asked about mine.
His eyes were oval shaped and sparkled.
I almost fall in love.
He had just arrived from Australia
His sister started to plan his stay.
Tuesday, Belfast. Saturday for friends.
Then Southampton, Bristol. Back to Gatwick.
He didn’t know the lie of the land.
He sought clarification with a wallet, coffee cup and me
Marking us out.
“I am West.” I said. “Beyond the coffee cup.
Southampton is the other way.”
Conversation turns to distance.
“I am not so good with numbers,”
he turns his eyes to me again.
We are almost there
“How many children have you?”
his sister asks him, suddenly.
He answers “three”
“and one wife,” she adds.
I walk into the gallery with care
Proud, full of grace
I am a beautiful woman
I know my place.
I am here to see Ravilious
An artist I had not heard of
And, this time I fall in love.
An ancient no. 29 bus sprawls
In Great Bardfield, Essex
On four wooden barrels
With a winding staircase
A waterwheel of rotary blades
Four waddling, white fat geese,
A south coast beach
a blue rimmed boat wrapped
in barbed wire
on a landscape of water colour.
An impression of surrealism!
I began to stir as I stared
Ravilious had captured the world
And it was there, there, in front of me.
Planes, caravans, bikes, bombs
Dash patterned rooms
Featured from circles
Squares, curvaceous and round.
He captures the White horse in Wiltshire
the Cerne Abbas Giant
Cut out of the chalk
and lets them rests on the hill side.
Then Ravilious goes to war
Paints darkness and light
A Train Going over a Bridge at Night
A line of explosions of sun on sea
A triangle of dawn over day
Round faces staring in submarines.
Slowly he showed me the shape of things.