"The Blue Boy"
Russell Thornton is the author of The Hundred Lives (2014), shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize, and Birds, Metals, Stones & Rain (2013), shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award. His newest collection is The Broken Face (2018). He lives in North Vancouver, BC.
“This poem responds to thinking, for a moment, that I see in front of me Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait The Blue Boy (c. 1770) — or, rather, an image in the air of a hotel’s neon sign replica of the painting, which I remember from my childhood.”
In front of my kids’ school
a miniature squall lessens as if on cue
and mist moves in from a forest offstage —
an enormous neon replica
of Thomas Gainsborough’s life-sized portrait
of a boy outfitted in shining blue.
My grandmother is hitting her marks
on the floor of the world again
and reciting just beyond hearing a speech
in which she orders her morning coffee
at a counter in the Blue Boy Hotel —
a building named for the painting
and blue-trimmed inside and out —
before she heads across the street
to the day job she has done for forty years.
This is when I know to step out to the mist
from under heavy tree branches —
and the rain increases and its curtains close
as glittering theatre curtains close;
the rain increases again —
the curtains open again.
I see my kindergartener walk out
of the school doors with his classmates;
almost immediately he lowers his eyes.
To keep the rain off his face?
To keep me from seeing him glance
towards our designated place?
He could be bowing his head in prayer.
I stand and wait as if I have always waited
exactly here for exactly these events to occur —
for blue mist and my grandmother to arrive
between what changes and does not change.
And as if on cue the rain increases
once again, and the mist vanishes, a spirit
losing its hold on the rain-brightened air.
But the work of her visit is complete —
reminding me the way she can
that my five-year-old will be looking for me;
telling me I must stand solid and visible
so he cannot fail to see me.
I nod to him now; he feels it is okay to nod back.
No two as unmistakable to each other —
me in my soaked shirt; him in his blue nylon jacket
and looking out from the portrait
the calm rain makes of him, my blue boy in the rain.