That’s me in the painting.
My face smooth and brow clear,
for I do not worry over
what I cannot see. My
hands rough with
rubbing, my arms strong
from carrying children,
Do you see how I fry eggs?
I gently nudge and push that
soft translucent smear
to move the whitening mass,
feel how they are done.
On the table beside garlic sit
stinging peppers that burn my eyes,
milk in jugs worn soft by hands.
That’s my grandson.
They say he has a shadow
Across his brow, looks always to the side
as if, if he could turn his head
a little bit further, he might see
what troubles him.
I know the steadiness of his arm,
the even sound of his step.
My hands know his smooth moon face.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2017. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2017 was Roddy Woomble.
A few years ago I visited the National Gallery of Scotland with the intention of writing about this Velazquez painting. There is a domestic everyday feel to the painting and a tremendous love for its subjects, the old woman and a young boy. As I began to write about it I became aware of a bit of a mystery in the relationship between the woman and the boy; she is staring off to the side as she cooks, and there is something slightly troubled about the boy’s expression. I interpreted her far-away stare as indicating that she was blind and was cooking by feel, knowing her world through her hands, her hearing, and other senses. I wrote the poem from her perspective, beginning with her tremendous dignity, her unlined face, despite her apparent age. I had encountered a similar dignity in a blind friend and I think my knowledge of her fed into the poem.