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Lex Runciman

Eyes and Hand
Four photos of Joan Eardley, painter, circa 1955

She sketches in pastel a neighbor Glasgow boy 

wearing a onesie and eating a sweet 

almost too large to grip. Hair askew as when he woke, 

he's frowning at the camera—

only that sweet's keeping him on the seat. 

But here he's looking at her and she at him— 

you can trace the line—as he sits 

on a wooden, too-large chair 

and she leans in from a low bench, board on her lap 

and her hand at work, eyes and hand, 

eyes and hand. He smiles watching her face, 

each of them smiling—she's familiar 

and he likes her. 

And in her mid-30s here she stands in a field 

near Catterline, Scotland, nice enough day, 

no clouds, windy though—you can tell 

by her short, blown hair, and she holds the easel 

that it might not topple. Paint, not a lot, 

on her canvas pullover—she has rolled the sleeves, 

and her face says get on with it please.

And last: a rocky shore, close ocean heave and churn. 

She's rope-weighted the easel with a stone 

large as a bucket. Even so, the wind must have slacked 

because that canvas five feet by four 

would otherwise sail. Paint cans open at her feet, 

her back's to us, soaked beret, saggy coat, 

left hand in a pocket, the right with a brush held out: 

she has paused to take it all in again—

an hour as impossible to catch as any child.

Ferry from Harris to Skye

A memory rehearsed, so I see it plainly yet.

Glary sun, a windswept day though by the harbor sheltered, 

the ferry loading its walkers, its trucks and its cars.

I'm at the stern rail where it's already colder as the engines

thrum and we churn the waters foam blue away, and only then

do I see them, two figures arm in arm on the pier,

a woman in a brown scarf tight drawn over her hair—

she reminds me of my mother driving the car to church.

She's arm in arm with a stout-coated fellow in a flat cap.

No one else, only the two of them standing at that edge.

Until the woman leans her head as though to speak

and then first one and then the other raises a gloved hand. 

They're waving to someone likely at the rail above me, 

or maybe waving only in the hope of someone who will 

see them, coffee in hand, from a window on the top deck. 

And I do not know if their waving is answered, or, if it's not,

whether they'd feel it a useless gesture. What I can say 

is they wave, timidly at first, as though distrusting any excess.

Yet as they diminish in the larger distance, their arms move 

faster, the gesture larger, and as we curve around a headland

into that unbounded wind, they stand small and waving.

John Angus MacDonald, South Uist, Hebrides, 1954, photo by Paul Strand

He could have been me, but he isn't, 

this boy in his large-buttoned, long 

tattered-sleeved shirt,

a warm enough day, shoeless as he is,

short pants sewn from an old towel,

one foot on a stone 

as he stands with sedges and grass

against a rock-stacked wall.

Who is this stranger wanting his picture,

not that he cares, he's on an errand, 

no hurry to finish, a small creek to cross—

he'll use that sturdy stick his left hand rests on, 

this day in 1954, 

when he believes all his future has been decided, 

though none of it has….

Of that moment he thinks no more 

until he's retired, and his daughter or her daughter 

takes him to a gallery, 

where around a corner he recognizes a boy, 

that one, framed on a wall, 

and though much comes back,

he can hardly believe that was himself.

Lex Runciman is on “the opposite coast, living in the 2nd Portland.” His sixth book, Salt Moons: Poems 1981-2016, was published in 2017 by Salmon Poetry (Ireland). An earlier volume won the Oregon Book Award. And next year, he and his wife will have been married 50 years.

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