James Tate


The two men sat roasting in their blue suits
on the edge of a mustard field.
Lucien Cardin, a local painter,
had suggested a portrait.
President and Vice President of the bank branch,
maybe it would hang in the lobby
inspiring confidence. It might even
cast a little grace and dignity
on the citizens of their hamlet.
They were serious men with sober thoughts
about an unstable world.
The elder, Gilbert, smoked his pipe
and gazed through his wire-rims beyond the painter.
The sky was eggshell blue,
and Lucien knew what he was doing
when he begged their pardons
and went to fetch the two straw hats.
They were farmers' hats, for working in the sun.
Gilbert and Tom agreed to wear them
to staunch their perspiration,
but they knew too the incongruity
their appearance now suggested.
And, as for the lobby of their bank,
solidarity with the farmers, their customers.
The world might go to war–Louis flattened
Schmeling the night before–but a portrait
was painted that day in a field of mustard
outside of Alexandria, Ontario,
of two men, even-tempered and levelheaded,
and of what they did next there is no record.

James Tate, Worshipful Company of Fletchers, Ecco Press,