13 Jul 2022
The Little Girl and
the Laughing Cavalier
After Frans Hals’ Laughing Cavalier
In my grandmother’s house
under my grandmother’s bed–
Wait. Let’s not look yet, Dad.
It’s not like he’s going anywhere.
With a bounce and a clap,
A drawing – here! – paper flaps.
How do you think of that, Dad?
But when grandmother’s cracks
surface unvarnished, the question
slips back. How do you think
of that? The tremor, shaking
her Parkinson’s by the hand.
On my grandmother’s wall,
chuffed with his ruff
and his wide-boy moustache–
No, stick to grandmother’s hip,
his suspicions will pass. Claptrap,
that fact: eyes sticking like glue,
the cavalier fixated on you? (Bung him
under the bed, quick sticks, before
grandmother sees and clicks).
It’s not the cavalier under the bed,
that gives me the jitters, Dad.
The black sash, the upturned hat.
The rapier crooked in his elbow–
We needed his swagger for what
was to come in my grandmother’s
house, in my grandmother’s head.
Behind the poem...
My poem is inspired by Frans Hals’ famous Laughing Cavalier. A print of this painting used to hang in the guest bedroom at my grandmother’s house. I was frightened by the Cavalier’s expression when I was a child – I would hide him under the bed. But as this poem reveals, my appreciation of Hals’ painting once I was an adult helped me think through my grandmother’s experience of Parkinson’s Disease.