Liz McQuilkin: ‘Words, words, words’ and ‘Brushstrokes made flesh’

Brushstrokes made flesh
(after the painting ‘Grandma’ by Miki Carmi)


She’s a white face outlined in black
on a white canvas,
a page from a life almost spent.

A hairless head, a newborn’s head,
yet hollow cheeks blazon her age,
unmask the stealth of time.

No need to know her story.
She is Everywoman
from birth to death.

She meets me with gentle yet penetrating eyes.
Sees inside me, knows what I’m thinking.
Looks beyond, beyond the exhibition

into the world of her mind
where past revisits
and present pivots on a breath.


She’s eighty-eight,
swaddled in hospital white,
her head cradled on a white pillow,

face birdlike, pinched,
flesh fallen away from features
once beautiful.

Wisps of brittle hair can’t hide
the shape of the skull
proclaiming infant girl.

She dozes. An eye half opens
as if to note my presence
but the effort is too much.

She sleeps. No pain—the medication box
dispenses discreetly under the covers.
A rattle in her breathing signals change.

She fades. She’s beautiful.
Behind closed lids vast skies unfold
and stars embrace her.

Liz McQuilkin


Words, words, words

She read Hamlet aloud: every word
of every scene, every stage direction.
She wouldn’t let us play a part, inferred
we’d ruin the bard’s meaning, mood and scansion.

If only I had listened, grasped the tale,
I could have choreographed a fight, a dance,
dressed up, ad-libbed, made mine this holy grail.
Instead, the teacher claimed omniscience:

speeches laced with wisdom (hers) from start
to finish. I sat impervious to her droning,
saw my classmates drifting, dazed, apart,
imagined Shakespeare, head in hands, groaning.

She’s my teaching model, she’s the key
not of how To be, but how Not to be.

Liz McQuilkin

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