Barrie Cooke Painting

Portrait of Tess Gallagher
BY Barrie Cooke

I who am usually a verb looking for its subject
am his subject. Still, I have no trouble
sitting still, asking permission to leave
my body, to which he assents, having no need
of anything so crass as personality
or spiritual innuendo.

“For me you will be simply landscape,”
he says, coaxing me to abandon hope of
influencing what will be done with me,
my ravines and alcoves, my hillocks
and dales, my ruddy chapters, abandoned
husbands and the like.

Now he is squinting like a man with his nose
in a tourniquet and dancing backwards
from the one appearing next to me.
Then, extending his brush as a sighting tool,
he rushes forward to adjust the spatial
equanimity of she to whom I am
but reference, in the time to time of glance.

The delicious sensation of skidding about
in the elsewhere of the artist’s
pirouetting to and fro towards one’s surrogate
while freely and gleefully I do roam
in the out and away, the updraft
of what a field must feel when a black horse
with a white blaze lies down full
in sun to have a soak. But no, he has disrupted

me, brought me crashing with a look cold
as spring water in a rill. Oh he would kill, kill, kill
if I had to pee, but I can be said to have taken care
of myself like any good landscape blabbering silently
day in and out to whatever trammels over it,
caring not whether beast or bones are flung down
upon it or beauty whispered into it
by some passerby.

For now I can never entirely die. I feel
suddenly more generous like sky shut down
by stars — why shouldn’t I make do
in this complexity of self-abnegation,
the way a tree can be said to take shelter
when pelted with birds on the way
to somewhere else. Else how would posterity
and one’s posterior ever be brought
to dialogue without this interminable — which,

through an alchemy of my gullies
and enchanted valleys, I am subduing entirely
or almost, for the sake of art.
Whereupon I bash his reverie of do-se-do
with “the figure” to muse aloud on Modigliani
blanking out the eyes in his portraits — as if
forcing the birdness of being into impenetrable
retreat by discarding essence, a sacrifice
to autonomy which a gaze could only interrupt.

Now at our second session he is deciding not
to paint me with hair. He confesses he got up
in the night to try hair, but the fisog would not
accept fringing. Lucky for him I am intimate
with my pate and prefer it, allowing an unruly
hedge simply to take the scare out of things.
Meanwhile I have talked too much
and he has rubbed out the eyes, which I well
deserved. But whilst he mulls aloud
the sexuality of painting nudes, he is canny
to work the orbs back in and does not rest until
the sun and moon are restored to my firmament.

We both take a look at her with a deep
conjoined curiosity, at how I can be two places
at once, and my not-at-all also insinuating itself
like a cryptic quatrain by Nostradamus.
I am mild and melancholy as a mate-less
swan at midnight in my black ruff
so perfectly executed, both moderne and
Elizabethan to his brush.

Then like two lost children on a bridge
in a rainstorm we give each other a hug,
a right punctuation when words to this endowment
would be mere landscape. Just to make sure
I can walk away I remind him of that boiled egg
he promised me for lunch.

As I warned, I am usually and preferably a verb,
though something still and ruthlessly
beyond me, will be that gazing each of us sheds
in avalanche to look away from her.

As for me, I’ll take away
Barrie dancing.

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