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picture of a swan
Picture of artist's paint brushes

First published in The Colour of Love, Acumen Publications, 2011; reprinted in Poetic Pilgrimages, James Hogg at Eighty, Poetry Salzburg, 2011.

Always the same old silence

And the same old,

Always different,

Northern light.

Always the same old smell

Of dried-out clay

And dried-out paint

And dried-out ideas.

That brush I haven’t touched in years.

That palette knife remains my favourite.

So many pencils sharpened in hope ...

My workbench is flecked with colours

That have not become anything at all

While ceasing to be themselves.

Here is a brownish smear

That was once Vermilion.

There is a spattering of grey

That was once Ultramarine.

And, in their tubes,

Resplendent with their unique names,

The still-virgin paints are waiting.

A Rose Madder

That is quite innocent of the world.

A Sap Green

That does not even know that it is Sap Green.

And here am I,

Surveying the debris of so many years

And reflecting on so many possibilities,

Available, as always,

Just in case an angel

Should pass through my north-facing window

And perch for one instant on my workbench,

Its wings ablaze with colours

For which only God knows the names.


Jonathan Steffen.

Picture of a dog

Lie long, my bravest brindle: 
Leap lightly in your deepest dreams.
All pain will pass, all sorrow cease,
And all the agonies of age will lift and leave at last,
Like geese upon the greying, silent sky.

Jonathan Steffen.

My Bravest Brindle

First published in Acumen 103, May 2022.

Picture of a famous painting
Charles I Sits for an Equestrian Portrait by Van Dyck

Dismounting lightly as a thoughtful child,
The tiny king looked younger than his years,
And older than eternity. He smiled,
But Van Dyck noticed a faint sheen of tears
In his unguarded gaze. Then, with a sigh,
Charles asked: “How long until you’re done, d’you say?”
“It will depend, Your Highness, on the eye,”
The painter answered, glancing at the grey.
“Your Highness’ mount is fine and full of grace.
An eye more honest I have rarely seen.”
Charles brought his head toward the horse’s face.
“Marry, I think we both know what you mean.”
And how will you, my beauty, end your life?
He turned. “I must unto the Queen my wife.”

Jonathan Steffen.

First published in The Spectator, 2 April 2022

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