The portrait

The portrait stood,

slightly askew and dusty

in the old building,

and its oily face

defied the dust

and the erosions

of time that took

the colours

and the memories.


I stood looking

at the face of

a young woman,

a face in which age and youth

combined to prompt

thought about

who she is or

what she was

in a time and an age

where young women

dressed to please

a man.


Was she actor or courtesan?

Was she a lady or whore?

I could not tell from

my reference point in time,

looking at her face

held in this ragged

frame of time.


But her eyes still

had their crystal glow

and strangely seemed

to speak without a voice,

and talk to my soul,

and cause my imagination

to dance and

go its playful way.


She was an actor,

I supposed,

or an actress in the

parlours of the time,

and she played roles,

and played her role

among the men

of class and the men

of means who

spent their money

and had their way.


As actress, though,

she shone above,

and lifted high,

beyond the rest,

and took Juliet

to the clouds

and Lady Macbeth

to the depths.


With her talent on display,

she caught the look,

the crafted eye

of a man of class,

a man connected,

a man of wealth

with plenty to burn

in the fires of lust.


For he wanted her

more than any other,

more than all

the rest

that strut and fret

their hour upon

the hollow stage

of regret.


He wanted her body,

he wanted the soul

that played

Gertrude and Bianca,

Celia and Desdemona,

and took the characters

beyond the ordinary,

to the special place

at the feet

of Dionysus,

the god that

savoured her art

as much as the wine.


So he took

her body

and he took her soul

and he made her his,

defying the world

and all that is

for a man of his class,

for a gentleman esteemed

and wrought in manners

and bought by the established

estate of the world.


Caught up in the

vivid colours of imagination,

I stopped a second

and looked at her eyes again,

for in one corner,

moving from one fold,

I saw the rounded

shape of a tear,

just for a second,

held precisely

and then pulled

right back again.


What was that about,

I asked myself,

in a moment of

questioning sanity

and fearing imagination

had wrought a fever

in my brain.


But there it was again,

formed as a perfect pear,

this time in the corner

of this eye and that,

and beginning to move

as a flood

filled with the colours

of the painter


by this man of taste

so many years before.


And they ran

and they dropped

to the floor,

forming streaks

like rivers through

the makeup

of a courtesan,

in a private moment,

in a room alone.


Did she weep for her new life

or for the old one lost,

for who now would

come to play the parts

and feel the cheers

of the audience

at play’s end?


There she was

free to be all she

could be; and

possessed by no man,

she was a woman

of women,

striding out to

be seen in all

the beauty of her soul

by all eyes,

not just the ones

of the man who

wanted her body,

who took her soul.


I stood there looking

at the vivid eyes

and the tears

that seemed,

in my stupor

of imagination,

to flow.


But then my

outrageous thoughts

were stopped by

the words of a man

who came to buy

the old house,

and to seize it for the land.


“Why that old thing

has been here for

years. I remember it as

a boy. Should fetch

a penny or two.

But not worth much

at all, I think.”


“I’ll buy it,” I said,

in a flash of inspiration.


“Why would you

want that?” he said,

“It’s old, it’s dirty

and she is dead.”


As he turned away

I looked again; I looked

to those eyes,

and in them

the tears had gone

and in their stead

there seemed

to be,

in my madness,

in my romantic

stupid dream,

the hint

of a smile, and

the uttering of

the simple words,

“I will never die.”