John Frederick Lewis Edfu Upper Egypt 1860

John Frederick Lewis The siesta
John Frederick Lewis ‘The siesta’


Gareth Owen

Each day at this same hour
He comes to her
His lady of the afternoons.
Behind closed lids she heart he whispering brush strokes
Gathering in the light, the windows and her sleeping form.
Her countenance is often in his dreams
but these are things not spoken of.
Outside the room where all this happens
In a splash of sunlight by the kitchen door
A maid trades amorous gossip with the gardener’s boy
While shelling peas into her widespread lap;
A petal falls, someone puts out washing
And in the orchard among oranges
Her husband, whose idea it was,
Tends to his bees, his face inside a net.
‘I’m working on your mouth,’ the painter tells her.
She does not know his Christian name.
Her shut lids tremble. Just so
She used to close her eyes in childhood
Feigning sleep or death
Then open them in sudden laughter
To see her father’s great moon face
Filling the everywhere;
Then later he was further off
And later still an absence
Like a place she took her heart to ache in.
Remembering this, she feels herself
Absorbed into the room
And in the darkness there
Beyond the limits of herself
senses the painter with his canvas gone away
And lines of curious, reverential strangers
Filing past the open door
To gaze on her
Like one already dead.

John Frederick Lewis Edfu Upper Egypt 1860
John Frederick Lewis ‘Edfu, Upper Egypt’ 1860

Gareth Owen was born in Ainsdale, Lancashire. He has published two collections of poetry, Salford Road (Kestrel) and Song of the City (Fontanta) and four novels. Two of his plays have been produced by the BBC. and a third is scheduled. He is the current writer and presenter of the BBC’s Verse Universe. He reads his work regularly in schools and colleges and on the air. In 1991 he was the winner of the Welsh Academy’s John Tripp Prize for Spoken Verse.