November, and you stand in your mobcap that hated worn black gown look up at the big house, lit and warm your tear-stained face pale as the mist a mist cold as the employer that has told you to leave leave the one job that feeds your family family bereft of a father or sons to work servant work you despised, literate girl that you are work you so needed
Beggars can’t be choosers
But once the son of the house chose to court you and you rebuffed him your days there were numbered have been sent home without a reference on a chill winter morning so you stand in your mobcap, your servant uniform look up at the big house, lit and warm weep for the hungry mouths at home those so small sisters
This poem has been written in response to a prompt at Dverse, where we are asked to respond to one of four paintings. I chose John Atkinson Grimshaws painting entitled A November Morning (1883). I looked at the painting (see below), saw the servant girl looking up and her story just came to me.
I grab my pencils, mostly old and blunt, scramble for a sharpener, my sketchbook then connect to Zoom run hands through unruly hair, so long now in lockdown, clean my glasses with my clothes.
The class begins. This week it’s Maxine from Greece, his lithe body first reaching and arching upwards back turned coyly to the camera we have ten minutes only to capture the length and proportion of limbs, that pert bottom, not that I notice it, the way every knee has a front, a face and it must be drawn right. Use the light and shadows to give heft and bulk, says our tutor in Germany, embolden key lines to make your drawing stand out.
The pose changes, now he drapes himself across a chair one leg stretching out to the lens and I grimace at the challenge of foreshortening making his leg look as if it is coming out of my page I try to see the shapes, the curve of his torso here a triangle of negative space there how his knee is on the same level as his nose.
All too soon, Maxime bids his farewells as we clap then we show our various efforts to each other. After each class, I am always tired drained with the effort of trying to achieve a human body on my grubby page.
Maybe we are not players on a stage But in an orchestra Each with a part to play Integral to the whole They tell us to aim high Lead role, boss, the one and only First violin But so many of us thrive without the spotlight The pedestal What is a orchestra without a third row? Empty.