The Night Watch

1 In the low light of winter The hard light of spring Lovers lit by scarcity and terror Ignite the hunter’s afternoon Remember stunning visits To a window closed against …

In the low light of winter
The hard light of spring
Lovers lit by scarcity and terror
Ignite the hunter’s afternoon
Remember stunning visits
To a window closed against them
Daylight shining and metallic
And a velvet inner anger moving
Out toward the world
Wanting dusk and darker
Mouths at midnight
Water lapping brick bridges
Arching over cast reflections
Quiet boats and then the seal
The seamlessness
The drowsing skin
Wanting the slick gloss of canal
The click-step on old stones
The journey to water and lace
This never happens
There is no embarkation
No sound of fumbling oarlock
No liquid plunge of oar
They walk instead toward the wall
Approach the masterpiece
Step over the gorgeous gilt framing
Greet the members of the company
And enter the chaotic composition
All carry drums and flags
And weapons the sash and plume
Are lit as if the spine of bayonet
Were something to be trusted
No one can name the columned
Architecture nor understand
The swift glance of Saskia
Furtive in the midst of artillery and commerce
Her partner is everyone
In the picture preoccupied
By attention and protection
He is bathed in the gold of military regalia
He carries a wrapped club
While she dims in the distance
A body bisected to accommodate
The dimensions of a public room
And the butt end of a gun is
Splashed across her painted gown
It is equally possible that he sees
And that he does not see her face
Each varnished page he’s painted
Falls open to the past and years
Of storm have come between them
She was always the one
With the breakable arms
The scrubbed Delft face
Hope draped stupidly like
Twenty years of Courtauld crepe
Over hair and mouth and shoulders
Until her ankles weakened
Until her lungs were choked with it
She was always on a journey
Toward a fabled light
In a season of increasing watchfulness
Vigilance and suffocation
Too many affiliates demanding
Entrance and participation
The colours chosen
The stance taken
While the varnish dried
How many spear carriers can you crowd
Into a torch lit painting of
A night of dark marches
A night of tense watchfulness
A call to lifted arms
And the protective imprisoning embrace
Twice in the past I remember
We watched the night
Advance like painted rain
Across the empty foreign lakes
And frantic flag-waving piazzas
That were our various horizons
As we stood huddled by the threshold
A pair of small brown
Birds blown into the wrong composition
There was conflict everywhere and everyone
Stood on guard in overstated costumes
We moved like rivers or like railroads
Avoiding the impediment of mountains
Until you took the knife of order from your hip
And tore apart the perfect chaos of the canvas
Later all we would recall was theatre
And damage, the scrutiny the night required
The drama and the war

Jane Urquhart

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