This poem is inspired by a visit to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. The painting mentioned is "Long Grass With Butterflies", by Vincent van Gogh (1890).

The remedy of butterflies

The crop sweeps like striated muscle
beneath non-reflective glass.
Cypresses bend into swum clouds

framing the wheat field by his window,
containing months of mind-calm.
High summer: the smell of horsehair

and oil lies sweetly dark on his skin;
a world at dusk hums by his temple.
Butterflies, murmuring, cool his brow.

I leave the gallery, and breathe.
Stony Nelson is tipped with gold,
his gaze lost on a memory of oceans,

the snapping tang of salt on lips.
Now his London creaks like drying hemp.
Red Admirals from St James's

stray above Trafalgar's traffic,
buoyant on a homesick sirocco,
dots of gouache against a falling sky;

their quick, flicked flight cast wide
like a remedy of light
rising from old canvas.

© Rebecca Root 2009