The picture is faded. Its edges pinched,
the corners curling in. A print,
I’m told, of a painting
that’s since been lost.
The name of a man
my grandfather knew is scribbled
in the bottom
left corner. Following it, a hand
more legible (a different hand?):
“Woman Kneeling.”

Shrivelled, shrinking from the sun, she
won’t see a delicacy
of God’s will lay rot to waste.
Especially not a fruit so sweet                                (her personal
as the cherries ripened on this particular tree.        favorite?)
Maritime historians have labored to evince
that she in “gleaning”—
an arbitrary distinction to be sure.
Despite her efforts, what they may,
the cherry skins hang loosely off their pits,
indifferent to decay.

No longer ruddy
like red of cherry but morose, sickly
even—a bruise
or spilt wine on cloth, flooding
the fabric’s stitching; coursing through and
clotting its impossible network of veins. Claims
the body for its own, like rust.
Even the paint on the original looks irritated.

The tree itself is just out of view.
What the painter saw fit to include:
stretch of green lawn, dappled with
amber light soft and subdued; cherries,
a ceramic bowl and a woman, kneeling.

The woman’s bending shadow forms a pool
around her. In it she dips her hand.
With vague deliberation
extends her fingers in the soil
the way the painter might have dipped his brush:
a gesture both distilling time and freeing it.

Forever kneeling. The sweetly scented summer air
forever hugging the day once more
before the season turns—before,
like the painting and its painter,
the print is pinched from view.
And with it, her.

Questions and Answers

What inspired or motivated you to write this poem?

What inspired me to write this poem was a reproduction of a painting that hangs in my parents’ dining room. Over last Christmas I stayed with them at their home on the LaHave River in Nova Scotia, near Lunenburg. The painting itself has nothing to do with a woman kneeling over a bowl of cherries, nor did it particularly inspire me at the time. But the painter’s fading shadow from his own work did, as nobody could say with any degree of certainty who the painter was besides the fact that he was at one point a friend of my grandfather.

It reminded me of a poem I grew up around, one that my grandfather wrote to a young man named Mac while serving in the Royal Air Force during World War II. He and my grandfather had become friends, and one afternoon decided to pass the time by writing a poem to one another. That night during an airstrike Mac died. It was supposedly the first and last poem my grandfather ever wrote, though he continued to be able to recite hundreds of poems by memory until his very last day on August 21, 2018. Again, my only knowledge of Mac is through my grandfather’s Wordsworthian depiction of a boy who loved life too much to be called in for supper by his mother and instead chose a life of roaming. This tenuous relationship between art, the figures and persona featured in art, and the artist is what guided me in the creation of this poem.

As a published writer, what are your tips or words of motivation for the aspiring poet?

My word of advice to those of you interested in publishing poetry is to forget about publishing your poems—or at least try to. Publishing is a great way to engage with other writers and to contribute to the rich cultural latticework we have here in Canada, but it should never be your ultimate motivation. Read passionately and engage in the act of writing, notice what excites you and what bores you in other poets and try to work with that. I think a lot of young writers forget how to read in the excitement of hearing their own voices, reading their own names—don’t fall into the water admiring the beauty of your reflection. Fall in love, instead, with the process of becoming through your art and with the beauty of creation. It really is a special gift, so let’s admire it together.

This poem “Gesture” originally appeared in Returns Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 243 (2020): 118-119.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.