Fashionable ladies tripping along white streets
past tall buildings, their long skirts and boots
in one of the many prints of Utrillo’s snow scenes,
remind me of the bare beauty in a world quieted,
whitened streets, leafless trees eerily lit, a wonder
of muffled sound walking to the bus with my mother.
I feel the icy sting, smell the sharp memory,
my hand snow-ploughing a fence, a cheap brooch
I gave her for Christmas glittering on her lapel.
I jog-trot to keep up, listening to the sound of tyres
yowling along Staines Road to my school, the town,
the shock of a dog dead under the viaduct.
She queues; I watch snowflakes duel with gravity
before a sawdust smell, the pet shop, a puppy
that will die of distemper trembling near the stove
in our cold house of post-war rationing
after we carry her home in a box through
a frosted realm illuminated by daytime headlights.
When Utrillo saw his 1934 scene in winter light
he could be excused for believing trouble was over
but the next war changed so much between then
and those dying days of dogs before our emigration.
His picture in my beach shack speaks
of long gone snow, shadows that still come and go.
– Ian Smith