The Rev. Robert Walker Skates

on Duddingston Loch at sunset
in black—black top hat and frock coat,
britches, garters, stockings, skating shoes
black. Except for pink laces binding his skates,
and the flush on his face, slightly deeper
at the ears,
he is black as this morning’s sermon.
The sky between the hills behind the Rev. Walker
is the color of his ears.
Oh yes, his scarf is white.
Anti if I say the ice
is black, I mean it’s not, is in fact
a window for fish.
His right leg is raised, extends behind him
like the long tail feathers of some exotic bird.
He is leaning into the wind,
leading with the sharpened blade of his nose,
arms wrapped one inside the other.
Or so Sir Henry Raeburn, R.A., did him
in oils, e. 1794.
Those fine cross-hatchings on the Loch
are not from all the Reverend’s parishioners
celebrating after service, skating up a storm,
for the hills and the sky seem no less
skated upon.
It’s Time. As surely as ice, oils crack.
For proof the pastor’s not here
in the flesh, out for a spin before the night
can render him invisible,
please note how the artist has moved the top hat,
painted out the brim, imperfectly. Its ghost
still hovers, as if a moment ago the Rev. Walker
was looking down,
discovering a flashy trout.
His look is leveled now at something distant—
nothing, I think, as tangible
as the deepening blue of the night, but farther off.
He sees the miracle he’ll duplicate,
not a major miracle, mind you, but still—
He has made his turn (notice the sliver of ice
kicked up by the heel of his skate),
has all but completed the figure 6
he means to raise
to an 8.
—Rennie McQuilkin