Is that your sign, the old man says – with heartbeat
struggling to meet its time – and the sweet-sour
smell of musty clothes surrounds him, as he looks
with rheumy eyes at the notice on my door,
then, hopefully, he stares at me once more.
I indicate permission for his entrance to my workplace,
and he shuffles slowly forward as I open up the door.
Then he slowly looks around him, at the paint,
the turps, and canvas, as he gathers up the
courage to go forward one step more.
His willingness to stand as my new model spoken –
though the meaning of the portrait he is not too
sure about – but the money I can offer is such
a tempting weapon – and his desperation
sweetens loss of dignity and face.
With decorum and grace, he divests himself of clothing,
and slowly shows the story that all life has thrown
at him. A palette of dark colours, that once
had shone so brightly, tells the tale, as he
told me, of what occurred to him.
He stands, as still as death: his dignity surrounds him;
a monument to art, and he who tracked his
once-young skin. And the pictures there are
faded, their forms unknown to all – but me,
the artist and, most of all, by him.
Written 26/01/2006. Published in Poetry.com, 2013.