"The Blue Boy"

Russell Thornton

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.