The Painter

by Caroline Gilfillan

Mopping his face, the painter accepts
vodka, pickles, speckled sausage.
Climbs the stairs to prop his easel
in four windowfuls of light, where he

sits, paint sluggish on palette,
drugged by syrup slip of birdsong,
watching nurse maids shoosh prams
like black sows up and down the road.

This man in smock and scarlet cravat
can’t know that Warsaw will be drilled
to stumps, that the villa will swallow
families shorn to bone, dragging

in hand-carts a grandmother’s table, a trunk,
bentwood chairs skittered down a staircase,
a set of engraved herbata glasses
knotted in a scarf with shaking fingers.

This man with turpentine tickling his nose
can’t know that a husband and wife will remain
in their single room, the children dispersed,
the woman in overall and wrinkled socks,

the man thick-fisted, hitched to braces,
rasping the path with a twig broom,
staring as we curse the mosquitoes. Brag about
amber, silver. Plan cheap flights home.