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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 10, Number 2, June 2016
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Gary LeBel
Cumming, Georgia, USA


F.H.

There's always something more going on in his portraits than meets the eye at first: a curl of lip, the tips of teeth, a widened eye, the jaunty tilt of a head with its inverse flow of tresses . . . which leaves us to wonder what it is, this strangeness we are after that feeds our deeper eye.

Wherever
your glances fall
red tulips rise
and over the scarlet fields there shines
'the light of other days'

He would probably not have played the petulant genius as he fired off the loose cannons of his brushstrokes, flourishes that had reached into his sitters' breastbones to strum the lyre-strings of their souls,

          or found the secret queen he knew was hiding in a barmaid, her eyes alight with a private fire, or a gentleman on the prowl for a pint, an adventurous afternoon, or the opera of a trysting night. For it's all a tale that skips down cobbled streets without looking back over its shoulder, the stories we all possess. And this was Hals, and the untold novella he leafs through behind a face.

And if his sitters had known that they were about to be immortalized by a hank of horse-hair dipped in cadmium red, he'd not have told them and spoilt it as the clip-clop, boot-heeled world in the street below slipped in over the sills of his workroom's sunny windows,

          nor to forego the glug of ale sent rollicking down his throat as he dabbed and swiped with his fingers, the brush clenched hard in his teeth, his casual banter easing his sitters' awkwardness in the kindly way a physician soothes an anxious patient, and thus free to undress their hearts, he who surely loved each of them, if even in an ironical way,

          beaming as he caught an eyelid hatching a wink or a blush sent racing like a wildfire over a woman's cheeks, this O. Henry of the easel striking each flint for the brighter spark he knew was there,

          and surely he was a gregarious man, an earthy and a sensual one for whom each moment counted, grateful for the talent he wielded without a hint of self-regard,

          and knew its skills had shaped the better angel he sought in mirrors, as the occasional draft from beating wings made his sitters blink.

As winter rain falls
dull and cold on the attic shingles
you could not know
how bright a light you shine
upon a night so long ago . . .

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