His mother painted it, in another life. It is small —
less than half a metre across, not quite square.
At first glance, it’s nothing but greys, as if it could be
Some 19th cen­tury indus­trial city­scape or Soviet town,
But closer in, you see touches of white and blue,
Drawn faces and the pink smudge of hard-scrabble mouths;
There’s a small child in one corner and he thinks, maybe,
That it’s him. He car­ries it every­where. On the bus,
At the market, in the cinema, loosely held in his old man’s hand
Or cradled care­fully on his lap. The frame is old, wooden, patched.
The glass is dusty, grease-smeared, a hair­line crack
Runs from the top of one grey building’s edge
To the sleeve of the mother’s grey-blue shift.
He thinks it was painted in 1943, in Lvov,
Towards the end, and as he sits in a shaft
Of winter’s sun­light half a world away,
He runs a worn finger down her grey cheek
For the hun­dredth time, for the thou­sandth time;
He tries to remember her touch, how she’d say
His name, the day she painted on a scrap of cloth
The day she hid it in his knap­sack and told him to run.
He car­ries the painting with him every day.
His mother painted it, in another life.