Visionary Portraits


Original Text: 
Paul Dutton, Visionary Portraits (Toronto: Mercury Press, 1991): 11-20. PS 8557 U8V5 Robarts Library
1the ladies all wear white hats
2resembling inverted bowls
3from which depend veils
4    slight
5    of netted nylon
6    white
7    or greyish brown
8    flecked in some cases
9    not in others
10    some longer
11    covering more of the face
12some of the hats ridged concentrically
13    some unevenly
14from inverted base to rim
15their eyes beneath the veils
16are uniformly set upon the ground before them
17lowered as in reverence
18mouths all set in sombre lines
19curls tight about their necks
21and neither particularly blond nor particularly black
22they move in procession
23one behind the other
24between the low white
25railinged post fences
26that enclose the walkway
27yet they are immobile
28moving as though on an endless belt
29they are not mannequins
30the walkway is concrete and does not move
31these are not images of my mother
32her many faces that I loved and feared
33her many hats
34her single still look
35her legs
36they wear white gloves
37    soft
38    of cotton
39    halfway to their elbows
40    with small buttons at the opening
41    held by a loop from the other side of the slit
42and their hands are
43their right hands are
45all of them
46raised at different heights
47except a few that are lowered
48or hand beside
49or behind
50or rest upon the railing
51which some of their left hands do
52left hands of ladies
53who are not images of my mother
54with her gloved hand raised
55absently or in distraction
56by her cheek
57her right cheek
58her left hand on a railing
59or hovering above it
60or with just her fingers on it
61their tips that barely touch it
62the railing
63that is not
64the railing the ladies move beside
65with stationary legs
66in the white daylight
67where the image is drawn out
68through the words
69the lines
70the ladies all wear dresses
71that hang loosely
72and have a slight sheen
73and are tied at the waist with a slender belt
74and reach to the middle of their calves
75and hang straight
76except where pulled in by the belt
77and none of the dresses are
78particularly bright
79or particularly dull
80and hang above stockings
81that are nylon
84dark at the ankle
85the darkness beginning
87just above the top of the shoe
88curving down then
89broadening out
90around the
91(and now you can't see this
92it's inside the shoe)
93the smooth roundness of the heel
94    their heels
95    the ladies' heels
96and narrowing along the creased sole
97the dark nylon equal in distance
98from either side of the seam along the sole
99    their soles
100    the ladies' soles
101and widening at the toes
102to come around and gather at the top of the toes
103which stick out at the front of the shoes
104which have thick soles
105and high heels that are also thick
106the shoes black or brown or white or beige
107or both of some of these
108or neither
109or none
110but are not particularly bright
111not particularly dull
112and which have holes in the front for the toes to stick out
113which are not the kind of shoes my mother ever wore
114who wore stocklings
115    nylon
116    transparent
117    seamed
118the darkness began
120none of the ladies
121are particularly fat
122or particularly skinny
123and all stand with one foot
124    either the left or the right
125in front of the other
126or else stand with both feet together
127on the concrete walkway
128enclosed by white fences
129with railings where all their gloved hands linger
130and those whose hands do not linger there
132as they all move
133on the narrow concrete walkways
134that intersect a large field of green lawn
135kept thick and short and lush
136across which the ladies do not move
137do not crush the plush lawn beneath their shoes
138do not turn it brown nor wear it down to white sand
139and are silent
140along the several intersecting walkways
141laid out in straight lines
142that never curve
143are perfect
144as the colours are perfect
145    perfect white of fences
146    perfect green of lawn
147    which is not there:
148    only perfect white space
149    beyond the perfect straight lines of the concrete walkways
150and no one is there
151is somewhere else
152watching the ladies
153from a distance
154and at some height
155seeing them in lines that cross
156the beige and near white glare of sand
157where the other walkways do not intersect
158the walkways the ladies are on
159but do intersect each other
160so that the men remain
161apart from the ladies
162and hurry intently
163not caring about their destinations
164between the perfect white fences of walkways
165running parallel to
166the walkways where the ladies are
167or at angles to them
168turning sharply
169just where they would intersect
170taking off in other directions
171across the lush green expanse of glaring white
172the men all wear suits and shirts
173and vests and hats
174that are different shades of brown and grey and black
175and do not care where they are going
176wearing stern expressions
177    mouths set
178    foreheads creased
179    eyes fixed
180    towards their earnest goals
181their vests conceal suspenders
182conceal much of the ties they are wear
183some of them with their shirts open at the collar
184tieless and vestless
185their pants held up by belts
186and all of them wearing hats with brims
187or no hats at all
188and their hair is combed back flat
189and is black
190or dark brown
191always either one or the other or something in between
192but never sandy or blond
193the men wear their suitcoats severely buttoned
194flapping open
195as they proceed with swift paces
196coats open to reveal tightly buttoned vests
197loose shirts
198collars open
199with no ties
200at the necks of their close-fitting shirts
201buttoned up
202to where the expert windsor knots occur
203in the ties that hang over their shirts
204that do in places stick with sweat to their bodies
205in the day's heat
206the cool air
207that keeps the shirts from sticking to their bodies
208as they hurry
209so unlike my father
210who never hurried
211always hurried
212knew where he was going
213went there
214never arrived where he really would have liked to
215and wore a moustache
216which he always shaved off
217the men do not wear moustaches
218do not know where they are going
219are frozen
220and are not like my father
221    always wearing a moustache and a hat
222    and a suit
223    flapping open
224    to reveal a severely buttoned vest
225    although his face was kind
226    and he never really knew his destination
227the men dressed in dark blue
228in light black
229or grey
230or brown
231and most of them wear moustaches
232and are not images of my father
233their faces stern
236for the most part
238their shirts white
239light blue
240light checked
241light brown
242never intensely coloured
243there is nothing intense about any of them
244except those that press their way
245past the slower ones
246stretching their right hands out to clear a passage
247through the long line of men
248all of whom move at exactly the same pace
249frozen in postures of haste
250forever stopped
251in progress towards goals they don't know
252and don't want
253so intensely
254the men wear expressions that are set and firm
255and bear signs of pain
259as my father's set expression did
260although they are not like my father
261none of them are
262although they wear shoes like his
263as they stroll through the walkways
264shoes black or dark brown
265in one plain style
268the toe-piece attached
269to the body of the shoe
270which has twelve eyelets
271six on either side
272    or perhaps ten
273    five on either side
274for the laces
275that hold the shoes on
276shoes out of which arise
277socks of varying colours
278all of which are bright
279    ranging through
280    dark blue
281    or grey
282    dark red
283    or olive
284    light brown perhaps
285socks that hold tight
286to the shape of the ankle
287the lower calf
288    their calves
289    the men's calves
290socks without creases or rolls
291held up by tiny leather garters
292on elastic straps
293enormous garters
294on a belt that encircles the huge muscles
295of the back of the lower leg
296which is very white
297and slender
298    their legs
299    the men's legs
300white and faintly lined with blue veins
301none of the men are particularly fat
302or particularly skinny
303but have paunches
304    all of them
305    most of them
306    some of them have paunches
307and appear angry
308they all do
309none of them ever reaching the ladies
310the many narrow walkways
311crossing and not curving
312the ones the men are in
313never intersecting the ones the ladies are in
314the men with their eyes set upon the ground before them
315lowered as in reverence
316not reaching the ladies
317whose dresses are buttoned to their throats
318ad whose eyes are fixed intently
319on a point somewhere in front of them
320and they are
321    neither are
322    neither the men nor the ladies are
323images of my parents
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
Special Copyright: 

Copyright © Paul Dutton and used by permission of the poet. Authorization to republish this poem must be obtained from him in writing.