By Michael Ratcliffe
TO THE LEAST SPARROW ON THE HOUSE TOP
His goodness is extended to the smallest of the workmanship of his hands;
his gracious care is to the sparrow upon the house-top.
–Mildred Ratcliff, Quaker Minister
Memoranda and Correspondence of Mildred Ratcliff
How often do we stop and look
at the dish we just washed and dried?
Savor the warmth of clothes
fresh from the dryer?
Admire the patterns made
by the vacuum on the carpet?
When pulling weeds, do we notice
the shapes of their leaves,
the thickness and length of their roots?
Do we really look at the grass
before we cut it; the greenness
of each blade, its length, and the way it leans?
Do we see the lines and swirls
of the grain as we cut through a board?
Feel the hardness or softness
as we drive in each nail?
How often do we ignore the sparrow
for the brilliance of a cardinal?
YOUNG PEASANT GIRL TO THE ARTIST, JULES BRETON
(after the painting Young Peasant Girl with Hoe by Jules Breton)
Yes, I will sit for you—
there is more to life
than toil from first light
to setting sun.
But, draw me quick,
I have work to do.
You think I’m beautiful?
Then, work your art.
Keep me forever young
because we both know
that I will age too soon,
my face will become as
furrowed as this field,
my hands and feet,
calloused and cracked.
My body that you admire
will grow old and hunched
from this—how did you put it?—
idyllic, rustic life.
I am no fool.
Your painting of me
will hang in some salon
where your friends
and those with money
will praise the quality of your hand
while they look at mine.
But, I know
that when we both are dead
and in this ground,
it will be me that people look at,
and I will look at them from your canvas,
admired in this moment.
Michael Ratcliffe is a geographer who lives and writes between Baltimore and Washington. His poems have appeared in a variety of print and on-line journals, most recently inScribble, Free State Review, and The Copperfield Review. His chapbook, Shards of Blue, will be published later this year by Finishing Line Press. He can be found on-line at michaelratcliffespoetry.wordpress.com.
Cover photo by Flickr user Bill Damon.